Democrats seek statewide vote on Medicaid expansion

Democrats gathered Tuesday at a pharmacy across Acadian Thruway from Baton Rouge General Hospital Mid City to publicize legislation that would allow Louisiana voters to decide if the state government should expand its Medicaid rolls.

“Our proposal represents compromise,” said state Rep. Patricia Smith, D- Baton Rouge. “This governor has turned this issue into a partisan issue when it doesn’t need to be.”

The constitutional amendment, House Bill 290, that Smith is sponsoring would circumvent the opposition of Gov. Bobby Jindal to a key component of the Affordable Care Act. Under the new health care law, also called Obamacare, the federal government would pay state governments to sign up more uninsured people to state Medicaid rolls. Medicaid is the insurance paid for by the federal government with a state match to cover low income people. In Louisiana that amounts to almost one in every four residents.

But, Smith said, another 240,000 residents have no insurance because they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid and too little to buy adequate coverage on the private market. The Affordable Care Act asks state governments to change their qualification standards to include more of those uninsured people.

Jindal says that state’s portion from the expanded Medicaid rolls, even with federal subsidies, would be too much of a burden on Louisiana taxpayers.

Smith and House Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, says Jindal’s opposition is political.

Democrats attempted several times last year to pass legislation that would require the state to expand Medicaid and accept the federal dollars. But all the attempts failed in a Legislature in which both chambers are dominated by Republicans.

Passing a constitutional would require two-thirds vote among the legislators, then a majority support among the state’s voters. Smith and Leger say the state’s voters should have the opportunity to decide.

“It is essential that we accept billions in federal Medicaid dollars for the future of our hospitals and health care system,” Leger said. “Since the closing of Earl K. Long, Baton Rouge General’s Mid-City Hospital has been inundated with new patients who are uninsured. If we want to protect Baton Rouge General and hospitals across the state – hospitals in cities and rural communities alike – we have two possible solutions. We can ask the taxpayers to pay more to fund our hospitals. Or we can accept Medicaid dollars that Louisianians have already sent to Washington and bring those dollars back to our state, to be used for the health and welfare of the people of this state.”