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Victor Joecks: Gov. Sandoval’s opposition drives Nevada’s Dean Heller away from Obamacare repeal

The power of Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s veto pen now extends to Washington, D.C.

“If you want my support (on repealing Obamacare) … you better make sure that the Republican governors that have expanded Medicaid sign off on it,” U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, said June 23. “I’ve been saying that for months. … Where is Governor Sandoval? What does he think?”

At a joint Sandoval/Heller news conference, Sandoval made it clear that he strongly opposes the U.S. Senate’s version of the American Health Care Act. Heller then announced he would vote no on the bill in its current form, and his comments made it difficult to imagine a version of the bill he would vote for.

Sandoval was especially upset about the proposed rollback of funding for single, childless adults who became eligible for Medicaid handouts under Obamacare.

“As a result of (expanding Medicaid) we’ve added 210,000 Nevadans and allowed them to access health care,” Sandoval said. “These are our friends. These are our families. These are our neighbors.”

The federal government pays 90 percent of the costs of those recipients.

Under the Senate version of AHCA, the federal government’s reimbursement rates would gradually decrease to 65 percent by 2024, and Nevada would cover the rest. A better proposal would be to return Medicaid eligibility to its pre-Obamacare days and not provide “free” health care for single, childless adults.

“Sen. Heller and I are here together to talk about the fact that these are folks that are worth fighting for,” Sandoval said. “These are the people when I talk about the Nevada family that I’m talking about.”

Sandoval is fighting alright — for someone else to pay the medical bills racked up by the “free” care used by “the Nevada family.” Sandoval wants the political credit for expanding freebies, but he doesn’t want to be bothered to have to persuade Nevadans to pay for it. Talk about wanting to have it both ways.

And that wasn’t even the most depressing comment made at the June 23 news conference.

“You can think of Medicaid as a welfare program,” Heller said. “You can think of it as an insurance program. Frankly, I look at it as an insurance program. This is insurance for hundreds of thousands of Nevadans who otherwise would not be receiving health care.”

I, for one, look forward to Heller’s support of single-payer health care.

That isn’t to say the current bill is worth voting for. Health care expert Michael Cannon, with the free-market Cato Institute, writes that Senate Republicans have offered “a bill to preserve and expand Obamacare.”

But if Republicans amend the bill to actually repeal more of Obamacare, it would only stiffen Heller’s opposition.

This is a no-win situation for Heller, who’s running for re-election in 2018. Just minutes after Heller’s statement, a pro-Trump group pledged to launch a seven-figure ad campaign attacking Heller for his position.

Then Nevada Democrats sent out a breathless release vilifying Heller for taking the position the party had been urging him to adopt.

Sandoval’s Medicaid moves on the American Health Care Act have put Heller’s political career on life support.

Victor Joecks is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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