Washington Briefs for Dec. 17, 2012

In case it wasn’t already obvious, Louisiana Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein reiterated the state’s opposition to participate in the federal Medicaid expansion as part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Speaking at a Republican-led U.S. House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee “State of Uncertainty” hearing, Greenstein said states have not received enough information for the health insurance exchange programs that appear too costly for many states.

“We have repeatedly shared our concerns regarding its policy implications, lack of sufficient guidance and unreasonable timelines for implementation,” Greenstein said.

“We are faced with the prospect of a more tightly controlled federal-run health insurance market that will increase costs, undermine the private health-care marketplace and weaken private sector job creation,” he added.

Greenstein wants the federal government to help work with state to “reform” Medicaid rather than stick with a “rigid” federal program.

Committee member and U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, argued that federal deficits and extra burdens on states could make the health-care law unsustainable.

As of this past Friday’s soft deadline, Gov. Bobby Jindal is making Louisiana one of 19 states refusing to set up their own health insurance exchanges — leaving it up to the federal government. Exchanges are the gateway to the new health-care law for individuals and families who buy their own health insurance, as well as for small businesses.

“It’s been 1,000 days since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law,” said subcommittee Vice Chairman Michael Burgess, R-Texas. “The Obama administration has not provided critical information to Congress, to the states and to the health plans that they need to begin implementing the health-care law’s exchanges, Medicaid expansion, or insurance market reforms.”

But California U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the Republicans are using hearings to attack Obama and to complain about policies that will not be overturned.

The Affordable Care Act is insuring more people, lowering prescription drug costs for seniors and giving people more health insurance options, Waxman said, but Republicans are fighting for purely political reasons.

“They (federal agencies) have provided a constant stream of assistance and information to those taking steps to make this law their own,” Waxman said. “For some states, no information will ever be enough. And that is the tragedy of politicizing a law that will benefit so many Americans.”

Vitter wants BP to invest

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., sent a letter to BP America Chairman and President Lamar McKay this past week asking the oil giant to stop being hypocritical and to invest more in Louisiana.

Former BP CEO Tony Hayward said the corporation would “make it right” in Louisiana after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon tragedy, Vitter wrote, and that still must occur.

Vitter specifically wrote about BP’s “Mad Dog Phase II” that includes the expansion of a BP production platform off Louisiana’s coast. To date, Vitter noted BP has contracted for the hull to be built in Finland and for the transportation and installation of the hull to be done by Dutch firms. The engineering work is being done by a British firm.

“Apparently, you’re very keen on ‘making this right’ ... in Europe,” Vitter wrote.

“Accordingly, if BP truly wants to ‘make this right,’ I ask very specifically that an existing Louisiana contractor be given priority consideration for this project,” Vitter added. “Louisiana’s work force is amongst the finest in the world. This work could easily be performed in Louisiana at the highest level of quality and at an extremely competitive price. And this work would be a true step in the right direction as BP continues efforts to rebuild its reputation in the state.”

Recovery grants announced

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced $14.3 million for hurricane recovery grants from Hurricane Katrina for the New Orleans metro area.

The bulk of the funding is $9.5 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to New Orleans for road and street repairs because flooding from Katrina in the Lower 9th Ward, Lakeview and Milneburg neighborhoods.

The rest of the FEMA funds include $4.8 million to St. Bernard Parish for its sanitary sewage collection system. St. Bernard Parish suffered severe flood damage, including to its utilities, such as the sanitary sewer collection system.

“Many of our roads and other critical infrastructure are still in desperate need of fixing, and this funding for repairs will make a tangible difference in the daily lives of citizens living in New Orleans and St. Bernard,” Sen. Landrieu said in the announcement.

Compiled by Jordan Blum, chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.