Rhetoric and Reform in Waiver States


Seven states have used Section 1115 waivers to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While each state pursued a unique plan, there are similarities in the types of changes each state desired to make. Equally important to how a state modified their Medicaid programs is how a state talked about Medicaid and reform. We investigate whether the rhetoric that emerged in waiver states is unique, analyze whether the rhetoric is associated with particular waiver reforms, and consider the implications of our findings for the future of Medicaid policy making. We find that proponents in waiver states have convinced a conservative legislature that their reform is sufficiently innovative that they are not doing a Medicaid expansion, and not building on the traditional Medicaid program. Particularly striking is that none of these reforms are entirely new to the Medicaid program. While not new, the way in which waiver states have been allowed to implement many of the reforms is new and has become stricter. We find an emerging consensus utilized by conservative policy makers in framing the Medicaid expansion. Expansion efforts by conservative policy makers in other states have subsequently pushed this framing far to the right.