Washington (CNN)Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is expanding Medicaid -- with a few conservative changes he's touting as big reforms to the program.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence spotlights conservative embrace of Medicaid
The potential Republican 2016 presidential candidate announced his decision to embrace the Medicaid expansion included in President Barack Obama's health care law in a speech Tuesday morning. It'll make health coverage available to 350,000 more Hoosiers starting Feb. 1, he said.
He joins Ohio Gov. John Kasich on the list of GOP 2016 possibilities who have expanded health coverage through Obamacare. Some of the party's governors touted as potential vice presidential possibilities, including New Mexico's Susana Martinez, have done so, as well.
The decision immediately pleased hospitals and many Democrats in Indiana, but has opened Pence up to attacks from a Republican base -- as well as conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, typically a strong ally -- that sees his reforms as merely window dressing for an embrace of Obamacare.
Trying to stave off that criticism, Pence called his plan "a proven model for Medicaid reform across the nation."
He's even renaming it, calling his expansion the "Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0" rather than Medicaid.
It's an update on an insurance program first launched through a federal Medicaid waiver under Pence's predecessor, former Gov. Mitch Daniels. The key differences: The Healthy Indiana Plan requires small individual contributions to health savings accounts, as well as a co-pay for emergency room visits. It also offers participants assistance buying private insurance. The program had until recently covered just 40,000 Hoosiers, funded through a state cigarette tax hike, but it had drawn rave reviews from users.
It's not clear whether Pence's version can shave costs off a Medicaid program that conservatives have long called too costly.
"Since the beginning of my administration, we have worked hard to ensure that low-income Hoosiers have access to a health care plan that empowers them to take charge of their health and prepares them to move to private insurance as they improve their lives," Pence said in a statement Tuesday. "This has been a long process, but real reform takes work."