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Rockefeller says Tomblin wisely ‘biding his time’ on Obamacare

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller appears confident Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will expand Medicaid in West Virginia, even while the governor's office says it remains undecided.

The expansion is being offered to states as part of President Barack Obama's 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It would extend Medicaid coverage to about 130,000 low-income state residents, with the federal government picking up the tab for the first few years.

Tomblin seems to be the last Democratic governor in the country to remain undecided about the expansion. His administration is waiting for results of an actuarial study, expected this month, before making that determination.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Rockefeller said Tomblin is only "biding his time" and probably would expand Medicaid in the state.

"I've had a lot of conversations with our governor about it. Obamacare, as it's called in West Virginia, is not much more popular than the president. He carried no counties at all in 2012," Rockefeller said.

"I think the governor is doing what he should be doing . . . He's being very careful; he's talking to all stakeholders."

Rockefeller, who supported the controversial health care legislation, said it's fine that Tomblin is the last Democrat to climb onboard with the expansion.

"That's not considered a disgrace at all. I think he's biding his time," he said. "My guess would be that (Gov.) Earl Ray Tomblin will end up doing it. He will pave the way very carefully and very cautiously smart."

Tomblin was in Washington, D.C., earlier this week for a national governors meeting. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius met individually with many governors during that time to see how the White House might persuade them to expand Medicaid.

Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler-Goodwin said during Tomblin's meeting with Sebelius, the governor told the secretary West Virginia would wait until the actuarial study was completed before making a decision.

He also expressed concerns that the state's insurance commissioner had not received rules on how the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchange plans would work, Goodwin said.

Even some Republican governors who once staunchly opposed the broadening of Medicaid coverage now are publicly embracing it.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of the country's most well-known Republicans, announced Tuesday he would expand his state's Medicaid program. Last week, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said he also would embrace the expansion.

The federal government has promised to pay 100 percent of additional Medicaid costs for the first three years of the expansion, with states picking up part of the bill after that time.

More than 400,000 West Virginia residents currently are on Medicaid.

West Virginians for Affordable Health Care released a report earlier this week that claims expanding the government insurance program would create an additional 6,200 jobs and add $664 million to the state's economy by 2016.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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