U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy and state Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Peterson differed Monday on whether the federal health care revamp is a boon or bust for Louisiana and the rest of the nation.
In separate appearances, the two tackled the pluses, as described by Peterson, of the Affordable Care Act, and the minuses of what critics call Obamacare, as outlined by Cassidy.
If the president is re-elected, Cassidy said, Republicans will have no chance of repealing the new health care system.
“It’s just going to bankrupt us all,” Cassidy told about 200 people attending a Monday night town hall at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center off Essen Lane.
The Baton Rouge Republican congressman said the health care revamp creates a bureaucracy, takes money from Medicare to help finance the changes and fails to access the quality of care and lower cost that people desire.
“The president has emphasized health care access but has not looked at costs,” Cassidy said.
Earlier in the day, Peterson, a state senator from New Orleans, criticized Gov. Bobby Jindal for rejecting expansion of Medicaid in Louisiana and claimed the governor is hurting Louisiana workers and businesses for the purposes of his own political ambition.
Medicare is the federal program that provides health care coverage for the elderly.
Medicaid provides health care for lower-income residents and those who cannot find insurance on the private market. The program is administered on the state level but paid for, primarily, by the federal government with states kicking in a portion of the expenses.
The Affordable Care Act wants states to change their criteria and cover more people who have trouble finding affordable insurance. The federal government would pay for the expansion but those dollars would decrease over time under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
Peterson told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that Jindal offers no alternative as he rejects, initially, all federally funded expansion of health insurance for 366,000-plus Louisiana working adults and some $7.2 billion in new health care dollars for Medicaid providers over the next five years.
“That’s $7.2 billion in new Medicaid dollars that won’t flow into this state,” Peterson said. “The governor’s grandstanding means he wants to keep the status quo. We have uninsured and no way to cover them ... He’s running for vice president at the expense of Louisiana families and businesses.”
Jindal has been campaigning around the country for Republican presumptive presidential candidate Mitt Romney and repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Romney visited Baton Rouge for a lunch with $50,000 supporters Monday with Jindal at his side.
The federal health care revamp expands the Medicaid government health insurance coverage to those whose incomes are up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. It also imposes financial penalties on employees and employers who do not purchase health insurance.
At the town hall meeting, Cassidy said advocates of the health care plan talk about states getting “all this money for free” to expand state Medicaid programs to people whose annual incomes amount to 133 percent of federal poverty.
“If it’s free to the state, it means your tax dollars are going to the federal government and coming back,” Cassidy said. “That free money is going to cost Louisiana $650 million over the first five years of implementation.”
Cassidy said Medicaid needs to be transformed. He mentioned a proposal he has submitted that Cassidy said would give states “more flexibility” to develop programs that meet needs more efficiently and at less cost.
Getting control of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security costs are key to getting control of the national debt, Cassidy said. “Our indebtedness is unsustainable and it’s being driven by our health care expenditures,” he said.
At the Press Club, Peterson said, at most, Louisiana’s share of the Medicaid expansion could rise to $337 million once states are asked to chip in 5 percent or so of costs.
“It seems like a good deal but Gov. Jindal says Louisiana cannot afford the $337 million cost,” she said. “The real question is how can we afford not to provide the coverage?”
The Affordable Care Act plan builds upon traditional employer-based health insurance, Peterson said.
“This is not socialized medicine,” she said. “This is the cheapest, most effective way to ensure that you and I stay healthy.”