Governor’s Office Turned Away Constituents Who Wanted to Talk About Medicaid Changes

Following my Friday post where I stated why I think Governor Doug Burgum needs to tell us his position on Medicaid changes in the Republican “health care” bill, I received messages from individuals around the state. Apparently, constituents have been turned away from the Governor’s office when they’ve wanted to talk about Medicaid, its impacts on North Dakotans, and proposed federal changes. The Governor’s office indicated they wanted to wait until Congress had acted. Here is why I think that tactic is wrong.

As I finished Friday’s post, I said the Governor should use the bully pulpit of the office. That position doesn’t only allow him to speak to North Dakotans, but also to speak for North Dakota’s best interests on the national level. Burgum should take these meetings from concerned constituents to fully understand how these drastic changes to Medicaid will impact their family, friends, organizations, or even their own care. These discussions could leave him and his administration with a better understanding of their challenges and allow him to advocate a position to Senator John Hoeven who is on the fence with the unpopular bill, and Senator Heidi Heitkamp who has demonstrated a willingness to work on bipartisan solutions to health care reform.

Burgum’s position on Medicaid Expansion was a point of contention in the NDGOP primary last year. He attacked Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem as a supporter of Obamacare because the AG defended the state’s expansion of Medicaid. Stenehjem responded by saying the “authentic” Doug Burgum would have supported his decision to defend subsidies that support Medicaid Expansion. As we know, Burgum won the primary, became North Dakota’s Governor, and eventually signed the reauthorization of Medicaid Expansion passed by the 2017 Legislature. He must see some merit in the Medicaid program.

Last week, Governor’s from across the country attended the National Governors Association meeting in Rhode Island. Governor Burgum attended. Vice President Mike Pence spoke at that conference and brought up the Senate health care bill and its Medicaid changes. “And, most significantly, under this legislation, states across the country will have an unprecedented level of flexibility to reform Medicaid and bring better coverage, better care, and better outcomes to the most vulnerable in your states.” VP Pence said. Nearly every independent analysis has basically said this is untrue. You can read the rest of Pence’s comments here.

I think it is important for Governors like Burgum to hear “the rest of the story” from the people they represent. He should hear how these vital services will be impacted by proposed changes – removed from the partisan talking points – before drastic changes are passed. He doesn’t have a vote in the Senate, but he’s got a voice and a position of authority to let our Senators know what these proposed changes to Medicaid will do to families he looked in the eye and whose stories he heard first hand. Governor Burgum should reconsider and take these meetings. His input may go a long way in crafting a workable solution.

Tyler Axness