Jindal health care plan passes

After turning away repeated bids to expand the Medicaid program under Obamacare, the Louisiana Legislature sent Gov. Bobby Jindal a bill Friday that challenges him to figure out how to set his own health care plan in motion.

The House voted 96-3 Friday for the state Senate-passed legislation after brief floor debate. The announced initial vote count was 94-2, but others who missed the vote weighed in late.

Most of the questions came from Democratic lawmakers who said it was irresponsible to pass Senate Bill 682 without knowing its cost.

“We are passing something without knowing the extent of our obligation to it ... the impact on our budget,” said state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge.

“They gave us a skeleton of what they were proposing to do,” said state Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge. “I believe it’s irresponsible for us to take it up.”

State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, said state health officials have assured that the study that would detail how the governor’s plan would implemented can be done within existing dollars budgeted. Hoffmann handled the bill for sponsor state Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa.

Nevers stood at the back of the House chamber as the debate continued. Nevers said he expects the governor to sign the legislation into law. A spokeswoman in Jindal’s press office said late Friday that would happen.

“It’s been a long process to even get a plan. This will bring about at least a glimpse of what the administration thinks might work across our state and America,” Nevers said. “I would hope they take advantage of all resources available and implement it in a cost-efficient way that could help thousands of people across this state.”

According to the legislation, the program would be funded with any money available.

Nevers has been a leading proponent of Medicaid expansion, which is opposed by Jindal and the GOP majority Legislature. His most recent attempt to send the issue to a statewide voter referendum failed.

Soon thereafter, recognizing the odds against him, Nevers picked up on Jindal’s broad health plan written as a national response to President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Jindal released the plan through his national group called “America Next.”

Nevers calls his bill, implementing Jindal’s national plan in this state, “Louisiana First, America Next.”

Jindal wants the federal government to provide health care block grants to states that would be free to develop their own health programs. Louisiana would have to seek special federal permission for block grant funding. The plan could consider various health care access initiatives such as increasing medical savings accounts, providing greater incentives for wellness, focusing on fraud prevention, guaranteeing access for those with pre-existing conditions and seeking federal changes related to insurance, such as cross-state insurance purchasing.

Under SB682, the state Department of Health and Hospitals would develop a plan based on the broad outline contained in Jindal’s initiative. Some of Jindal’s plan would require federal as well as state law changes. The plan must be submitted to the Legislature’s health and money committees in September. Before it could be implemented, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget would have to approve it, looking at potential fiscal impacts now and long term.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.