Obama Endorses Senate Bill to Let States Opt Out Of Health Care Law Three Years Earlier

ABC News' Sunlen Miller reports: President Obama endorsed a bipartisan Senate bill that would allow states to opt out of requirements of the health care reform law earlier than previously allowed to design their own plans, as long as they meet certain criteria.

“I think that’s a reasonable proposal,” Obama said in front of the nation’s governors gathered at the White House today, “I support it. It will give you flexibility more quickly, while still guaranteeing the American people reform. If your state can create a plan that covers as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does -- without increasing the deficit -- you can implement that plan. And we’ll work with you to do it."

The president said that this is the recognition that states need flexibility to “tailor their approach to their unique needs” – and need to do this sooner than the health care act outlines.

The current law already allows states that are unhappy with the health care bill to submit their own plans –called “state innovation waivers -- but not until 2017.

Under the “Empowering States to Innovate Act,” supported by the president today and first introduced in November by Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), state innovation waivers would be available three years earlier than under the current law - in 2014 - as long as states meet certain criteria.

If that criteria is upheld states would be allowed to “propose and test alternative ways to be meet the shared goals of making health insurance affordable and accessible to all Americans, including those living with pre-existing conditions,” the White House said in a statement today.

The criteria, outlined by the White House today, is:

  • Provide coverage that is at least as comprehensive as the coverage offered through Exchanges – a new competitive, private health insurance marketplace.
  • Make coverage at least as affordable as it would have been otherwise.
  • Provide coverage to at least as many residents as the Affordable Care Act would have provided.
  • Do not increase the Federal deficit.

The legislation would allow states to opt out from the health care bill’s requirement if they can demonstrate that their method would meet these criteria.

Within his endorsement, the president took a swipe at a possible 2012 contender, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

“I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he’s proud of what he accomplished on health care in Massachusetts and supports giving states the power to determine their own health care solutions. He’s right. Alabama is not going to have exactly the same needs as Massachusetts or California or North Dakota. We believe in that flexibility.”

The setting – in front of that nation’s governors, many of whom have fought against the president’s health care bill – was not coincidental. And although the president has previously stated that he is open to “tweaks” and “fixes” of the health care bill, this is the first time has endorsed a large portion of changing the bill state-to-state.

Today the president also said that he is still not open to “re-fighting” the battles of the past.

“But I am willing to work with anyone -- anybody in this room, Democrat or Republican, governors or member of Congress -- to make this law even better; to make care even better; to make it more affordable and fix what needs fixing.

A senior administration official said it is “too soon to tell” how many states would take advantage of this, but said they are “intrigued” by the ideas coming out of the states like Oregon and Massachusetts,

-Sunlen Miller

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