Nevers pursues Medicaid expansion

State Sen. Ben Nevers said Tuesday that he would propose two constitutional amendments aimed at guaranteeing that low income Louisiana adults get basic health care coverage.

Nevers, D-Bogalusa, said he wants Louisiana voters to either authorize expansion of the state Medicaid program called for in the federal health care revamp or to provide health care coverage for residents whose income falls below the federal poverty level.

Nevers said he prefers the Medicaid expansion, but if it continues to be rejected by the Jindal administration something needs to be done in Louisiana for the poor uninsured. He

“There’s a huge hole out there that’s been created by our non-participation” in the Medicaid expansion covering adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, Nevers said.

The Kaiser Commission estimates 242,000 Louisiana residents, who make too much for Medicaid but too little to purchase adequate insurance, would qualify for Medicaid coverage through the expansion. For an individual, 100 percent of the federal poverty level is $11,490. For a family of four, it’s $23,550. At 138 percent for an individual it’s $15,856 and family of four $32,499.

Nevers said people are ending up in hospital emergency rooms with serious illnesses because of lack of health care and that “cost all of us millions.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal is a strong opponent of Medicaid expansion, contending it ultimately be too costly and that it builds on a broken Medicaid system. Nevers led the unsuccessful state Senate fight in the 2013 session.

Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds legislative vote but bypasses the governor’s desk. Additionally, a majority of the state’s voters would have to approve.

Nevers joined a telephone conference call organized by the Louisiana Democratic Party which also included two working women who praised the health care coverage they have received through the new federally-run insurance exchange marketplace.

Tierney Brinkman, a New Orleans server and bartender, said she went without insurance for 10 years. “It’s not that I didn’t want it. I had a pre-existing condition,” said Brinkman, explaining she had lumps in her breast and breast cancer in her family. She said either no company would insure her or the monthly premiums were “well beyond my means.” That 10 years without coverage was “terrifying,” she said.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, Brinkman said she now has a quality plan with a low deductible: $108 a month.

“For the first time they were not asking my medical history. I’m a hard working human being who just wanted to purchase affordable health care,” she said.

Debra Rosenthal, a Baton Rouge beautician, said she had coverage but because of a pre-existing condition the costs of coverage would increase every year “to the point it was in the stratosphere.”

Rosenthal said she checked out her options through the health insurance exchange.

“I have since gotten insurance and been able to use it and I’m saving about $650 a month over what I had been paying,” she said.

“I’m so excited I’m jumping up and down on the inside. It’s unbelievable. I don’t see how anyone can say it’s not a good thing,” Rosenthal said.