Political Horizons: Reports support Obamacare

Once again, over-the-top political rhetoric is accompanying partisan bickering that threatens to send federal workers home in a government shutdown.

Republicans and Democrats are toe-to-toe over President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare,” some of which has been implemented, some of which begins in October and much of which starts in January.

The sniping — both pro and con — thus far has been unencumbered with facts, relying instead on fear, speculation and spin.

For instance, Gov. Bobby Jindal bases his opposition to Obamacare, in part, on his belief that “blended federal matching rate” is a “euphemism for shifting costs to the states.”

The Louisiana Budget Project, which loves Obamacare as much as Jindal hates it, says statistics released by the Census Bureau last week document how earlier activated provisions of Obama’s health care revamp have improved the situation in Louisiana.

“From our perspective, they make the case for expanding Medicaid and health coverage,” said Jan Moller, executive director of the Baton Rouge-based study and advocacy group, tracking how fiscal policies affect poor and middle-class families.

The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, released Thursday, questions enough residents around the country that it can give fairly reliable statistics on local situations.

Moller’s office found that the share of Louisiana residents without health insurance coverage fell almost 1 percent to 16.9 percent. Much of that reduction came from adults under the age of 26 who, because of a provision in the Affordable Care Act, could stay on their parents’ health insurance policies, Moller says.

Between 2010 and 2012, the percentage of Louisiana residents between the ages of 18 and 24 without health coverage dropped from 33.5 to 27.9 percent, which translates to about 26,000 fewer uninsured young adults, while 21,500 more were covered by a private plan, Moller said his office’s analysis of the American Community Survey showed.

Because this one provision documented a significant change, Moller says, “We see the potential for this federal program to improve people’s lives and provide better coverage.”

Perhaps a more-persuasive point is that the percentage of covered children hit 94.7 percent, a record, particularly when compared with the percentage of adults who are insured.

In the late 1990s, state government decided to expand coverage by changing the rules to sign up more children for government-subsidized policies under Louisiana Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as LaCHIP.

On the other hand, almost one-fourth of the adults under the age of 64 have no health insurance, according to the Census Bureau.

“If only there was some policy solution out there that could help alleviate this situation. Oh wait, we have one. We just haven’t taken advantage of it,” Moller said.

Basically, Obamacare wants to change the rules to allow Medicaid coverage for families making up to 138 percent of the poverty level, which is $31,812 for a family of four.

Roughly 112,000 families live with income between the poverty level and 138 percent of poverty. The federal government promised to pay the full costs of the Medicaid expansion from 2014 to 2016, then pay up to 90 percent of costs.

Jindal refused, arguing state taxpayers eventually would pay more.

He also argued that Medicaid expansion would pull a lot of people off private insurance and onto the public rolls.

Forbes Magazine earlier this month reported a RAND Corp. study that shows health insurance rates for individuals purchasing private coverage will jump 8 to 10 percent in Louisiana, where the refusal to expand Medicaid “will force more lower-income people into the individual insurance market.”

Teresa Falgoust, a coordinator for Agenda for Children, a New Orleans organization that tracks law and policies involving children, says the state’s traditionally low pay base means a lot of Louisiana workers hover around the level that would have been covered by Obamacare.

“When you’re earning low wages, it becomes difficult for you to pay the premiums on your own, even when private insurance is available,” Falgoust said.

Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is mballard@theadvocate.com.