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HHS official: Health care law gives flexibility to states now and in the future

The regional director of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services told a Madison audience that the federal health care reform law was written with a great deal of flexibility for states in mind -- and that states like Wisconsin that decline to implement their own aspects of the law will have opportunities to do so in the future.

"This is not just something I say in Wisconsin," HHS Region V Director Ken Munson said Monday at the annual HealthWatch Wisconsin conference, referencing decisions by the Walker administration to decline Medicaid expansion funding and to not implement a Wisconsin-specific health insurance exchange.

Munson largely refrained from commenting on an alternative Medicaid proposal announced last week by Gov. Scott Walker, saying the feds had not yet seen all the details of the plan to shift some citizens previously eligible for BadgerCare into the federally established exchanges.

But he said the acceptance of the Medicaid expansion by other states with leaders who had opposed the health care law -- singling out Florida, Arizona, Michigan and Ohio -- had changed the conversation about the expansion. And he argued that the expansions in those states would save thousands of lives without creating a large dent in their budgets.

Asked directly about the Wisconsin proposal, Munson said people moved from Medicaid to new health insurance exchanges would have more choices in coverage, but would still be entitled to the basic benefits as required under the law.

Speaking generally, however, he said that the cost of Medicaid coverage would "generally be less than coverage coming through the exchange."

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