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Governors Give Chilly Reception to Health Bill Push

The timing is critical because the Senate is expected to take up its health care overhaul this week, and Republicans — who control the body with a slim 52-vote majority — have already lost the support of two of their senators. Losing one more Republican senator would effectively sink the legislation, and a handful of Republican senators from states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act have signaled they will closely follow the lead of their state’s governor.


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At a private luncheon for governors on Saturday, three Democratic governors called for the group to release some sort of joint, bipartisan statement on the health bill. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut proposed a letter formally opposing the Senate legislation. Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, the chairman of the National Governors Association, and Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana suggested a more restrained approach to communicate unease with the health bill that could garner bipartisan support from the heavily Republican group. But a handful of Republican governors opposed making a collective statement, noting there was no broad agreement about the nature of their opposition.

“It’s important if anything goes out under the name of the N.G.A. that it has the endorsement of members certainly, and I think there was not consensus on that,” Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky, a Republican who voiced his discomfort with a joint communiqué during the lunch, said after the session.

Nonetheless, many of the Republican governors appear to be opposed to the current Senate legislation, and there is widespread skepticism in their ranks that the bill will pass.

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Gov. Scott Walker, Republican of Wisconsin, who has previously voiced his irritation that the Trump administration did not originally seek the views of governors on health care, said at the luncheon that the best time for the governors to collectively weigh in would be after the Senate bill fails, according to officials in the room.

Earlier in the day, Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, and Seema Verma, the Medicaid administrator, received a cold reception from governors of both major parties at a closed-door meeting. The governors pressed the officials about spending cuts to states, and voiced acute skepticism about the argument — advanced by supporters of the health care bill — that states could make up for any fiscal changes by experimenting with new ways of administering Medicaid.

Ms. Verma opened her presentation by urging the governors not to accept the conclusions of a private study — commissioned by the governors association — that warned states they would experience drastic cutbacks in Medicaid money under the Senate proposal, according to a person present in the room. The study, conducted by the consulting company Avalere Health, concluded that governors would probably have to either eliminate services or raise taxes to compensate.

Mr. Price and Ms. Verma also criticized the conclusions of the Congressional Budget Office, which found that an earlier version of the Senate bill would lead to about 15 million people losing coverage they currently receive through Medicaid. Both administration officials insisted that funding shifts would have limited impact on the states, because the bill would help move Medicaid recipients into the private insurance market.

But the governors, including Republicans Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, pushed back on the administration’s sunnier assessments.

Gov. Bill Walker of Alaska, an independent and former Republican, said the Senate and White House should slow its march toward a health care vote to give governors more time to analyze the proposed changes. But Mr. Price, the health secretary, replied that there was no time to wait.

“I think it’s fair to say the governors aren’t buying it,” said Gov. Gina Raimondo, Democrat of Rhode Island. “I’m certainly not.”

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