Another Medicaid expansion bill fails

An attempt to make a legislative end-run around Gov. Bobby Jindal’s rejection of Medicaid expansion in Louisiana died in a Louisiana House committee Tuesday.

Separate bills calling for a private sector-based Medicaid expansion have cleared committees in both the House and Senate. Even if they were to pass the Republican-controlled Legislature, Jindal’s veto would loom.

So, state Rep. John Bel Edwards proposed House Concurrent Resolution 8, which would direct the state Department of Health and Hospitals to file papers with the federal health agency to implement the expansion.

Edwards, D-Amite, argued that state law allows the Legislature to override Jindal. He pointed to a state law that allows the Legislature by concurrent resolution to suspend, amend or repeal any rule or regulation. Edwards sought to amend the rules governing the state’s Medicaid plan.

Thomas Enright, Jindal’s executive counsel, argued that the resolution would not have the effect of law and would accomplish nothing.

“The administration is opposed to the expansion of Medicaid,” Enright said. “And this is not going to take you where you want to go if you want to vote for it.”

Enright argued that by resolution “you cannot change existing law or create a new law.”

When the vote came, five members of the House Health and Welfare Committee voted for the resolution while 10 opposed it.

Jindal objects to the Medicaid expansion, saying it would be too costly for the state and that Medicaid is a broken system for health care delivery.

The two bills that remain alive have been revamped to provide for a private insurance-based expansion similar to that embraced in Arkansas. That plan would allow those who qualify to go through health insurance exchanges where they could shop for the plan that best suits their needs.

Up to 400,000 uninsured Louisiana adults could qualify for the program, which would expand Medicaid to cover those with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Edwards had argued that legislators needed to step in and reject the partisan politics that has blocked the state’s acceptance of the Medicaid expansion.

“I would say it’s time to govern and not view it in a political prism,” said Edwards, an expected candidate for governor in 2015.

Not only would the expansion provide health coverage to the state’s working poor, but the federal dollars would bring $1.8 billion to the state’s economy and create 15,000 jobs, Edwards said. In addition, it would protect Louisiana small businessmen from having to pay penalties for not providing insurance to their employees, he said.