Medicaid expansion debate to resume in Louisiana
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Efforts to provide government-subsidized health insurance to thousands through an expansion of Louisiana’s Medicaid program will again be pushed in the upcoming legislative session.
Former Health and Hospitals Secretary David Hood said Monday he’ll be involved with a coalition of Medicaid expansion supporters seeking to persuade state lawmakers who rejected the idea last year.
But Hood acknowledged that chances of getting the bill to passage remain slim because of strong opposition from Republicans, in particular Gov. Bobby Jindal, also a former Louisiana health secretary.
“We do seem to be stuck here in Louisiana. But we’re not giving up. We’re going to keep this issue right in front of everybody’s face, so that they can see that we’re passing up an opportunity here to do something that would be very good for our people,” Hood, who once worked for Jindal in the state health department, told the Baton Rouge Press Club.
Democratic lawmakers have pledged to reintroduce proposals for a Medicaid expansion, to be considered in the three-month regular session that begins March 10.
The expansion would cover adults making up to 138 percent of the poverty level — less than $32,000 for a family of four. It would be paid with money approved under the federal health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama. The federal government would cover the full cost for the first three years and the majority of the cost thereafter.
Jindal, like many Republican governors, opposes the expansion as too costly for the state and as an inappropriate growth of government health care.
About one in five Louisiana residents are uninsured. Estimates are that up to 300,000 people — about one-third of the state’s uninsured — would be eligible for Medicaid under the insurance expansion that would allow more working poor to qualify for the free coverage.
Supporters say the insurance expansion would improve health care for thousands of Louisiana citizens who work at low-wage jobs and can’t afford the coverage on their own, while also providing an influx of dollars for health care providers.
“Frankly, I don’t know what we’re waiting for. I’m afraid that it’s mainly a political decision,” said Hood, who was health secretary under Republican former Gov. Mike Foster.
Jindal, considered a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has denied his opposition to the Medicaid expansion has anything to do with his political ambitions, calling the federal health care law poor policy.
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office estimates the Medicaid expansion could save Louisiana as much as $510 million over 10 years, with the state receiving up to $15 billion in federal funding. The Jindal administration disputes the fiscal office analysis.
The governor’s health secretary, Kathy Kliebert, said Louisiana has worked to improve care for the uninsured through privatization deals for the state’s public hospital system and through networks of local health clinics.
“Rather than expanding Medicaid, we are working to identify where state government is best able to serve the population and that is in establishing a network of resources for the safety-net system using local resources and partners,” Kliebert said in a statement.