States' role in payment as well as coverage will be subject to debate as the administration and the Congress decide how to address the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and otherwise reshape the nation's health policies. Acting as stewards of health care for the entire state population and stimulated by concern about rising costs and federal support under the ACA, the elected and administrative leaders of some states have been using their political influence and authority to improve their state's overall systems of care regardless of who pays the bill. In early 2015 we conducted on-site interviews with key stakeholders in five states to explore their strategies for payment and delivery reform. We found that despite these states' similar goals, differences in their statutory authority and purchasing power, along with their leaders' willingness to use them, significantly influence a state's ability to achieve reform objectives. We caution federal and state policy makers to recognize the reality that state leaders' political desire to exercise stewardship may not be enough to achieve it.