Landrieu criticizes Louisiana's response to Obamacare

Implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act will be “slower going” in Louisiana, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said Wednesday.

Landrieu placed part of the blame on the state “dragging its feet,” including punting to the federal government to establish a health insurance exchange. “It’s only hurting itself,” said Landrieu, D-La.

Landrieu said the federal government is “scrambling” to get a Louisana exchange open by Oct. 1 that offers residents coverage choice options. So far, the state only has one exchange participant, BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana, which she said has 85 percent of the health insurance business in the state today.

“Louisiana may be slow but it will eventually get there,” Landrieu told reporters after a Rotary Club of Baton Rouge speech.

She said residents will benefit from the comprehensive federal health care revamp of 2010, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or ACA, because more people will have insurance and companies will no longer be able to refuse health care coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions. “The ACA is going to be better than the old system,” she said.

Landrieu has been a proponent of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and its expansion of Medicaid to cover the working poor who make to much money to qualify for the government program but too little to buy adequate insurance policies on the private market.

Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes the federal law and refused to accept federal money to insure more uninsured people in Louisiana under Medicaid.

Also Tuesday, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell joined top legal officers in a dozen other states expressing concern to federal officials about consumers’ private information being protected as they use the new health care exchanges to obtain insurance.

They warned that privacy protection measures in U.S. Health and Human Services rules are “woefully inadequate,” noting that there is no requirement for criminial background checks for those who assist consumers and not enough hours of training for them.

“Each person collecting information is being placed in a position of trust and will have access to a wide variety of personal information from consumers,” Caldwell stated. “This is a disaster waiting to happen.”

Landrieu, who is up for reelection in 2014, did not discuss the health care issue during her Rotary Club address.

Asked later why she avoided the health care topic, Landrieu said: “I wanted to focus on Baton Rouge, economic development and building things.” She said she has talked about the federal health revamp at other stops during a statewide tour.

Before the Rotary luncheon, Landrieu discussed efforts that saved Fort Polk from the Pentagon hit-list, work to get more offshore oil and gas revenues for Louisiana and provide insurance relief for those in flood-prone areas.

Landrieu said her efforts on those fronts proves — contrary to the claims in a just-released Republican campaign ad — that she does represent Louisiana residents.

Landrieu said she is seeking a 37.5 percent share of royalty that the federal government receives.

“We can use that money to restore our coast so people can live here safely,” she said. “We will never get 50 percent.”

The senator said some of the extra revenues could be used to fund “Water Institute” projects so people don’t have to flee the coast to higher ground when storms hit. “I frankly am tired of running,” she said.

Landrieu said it is critical to get “this flood control bill fixed for many people in south Louisiana ... Livingston, Ascension and maybe part of Baton Rouge.”

Federal flood insurance rates are set to skyrocket and the state’s congressional delegation is trying to get some relief for residents who depend on the coverage.

“It would be hard not to be affected by flooding in Louisiana,” Landrieu said.

The reauthorization last year of the National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, included rate hikes of up to 25 percent a year on non-primary residences, businesses and homes that have flooded multiple times.

Primary residences receiving subsidized “grandfathered” rates will be phased out as increased risks are factored into new flood maps, but many “grandfathered” primary residences are not affected until the home is sold or the policy lapses.

The NFIP has been in financial distress with a loss of more than $20 billion, largely due to payments made after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.