Medicaid expansion bill fails in Senate committee

An attempt to go around Gov. Bobby Jindal and put the issue of Medicaid expansion to Louisiana voters failed to clear its first legislative hurdle Wednesday.

After more than four hours of testimony, most of it from supporters, including leading Democratic Party elected officials, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted 6-2 to defer action on the proposed constitutional amendment, effectively killing it.

“You see tremendous pressure from Washington-style party politics injected into Louisiana,” Senate Bill 96 sponsor state Sen. Ben Nevers said about the vote.

Nevers said he is not through with efforts to get some type of movement on the health care front to help low income adults.

Nevers said he plans to rewrite another bill to mirror Gov. Bobby Jindal’s alternative to the Obama health care plan promoted by the governor’s national policy group America Next.

“I think a Louisiana First America Next would be a great plan and give our governor the opportunity to provide a pilot plan in Louisiana he could spread all over the nation if he became president,” said Nevers, D-Bogalusa.

Nevers said the measure could come up as early as next week in the same committee.

In a statement issued by his press office, Jindal responded with a slam on the Affordable Care Act as a failure and in need of repeal. He said it was “great” that Nevers agrees.

Jindal’s plan includes a global grant approach to Medicaid under which states would get a fixed funding allotment adjusted annually for inflation and eligible population growth and the ability to decide how to use it.

Jindal has consistently opposed the federal Affordable Care Act and rejected the Medicaid expansion allowed through it, claiming that system is broken and it would be too costly for state taxpayers.

Nevers’ Senate Bill 96 would allow the state’s voters to decide if the qualifying standards to acquire Medicaid should be expanded to include people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The 138 percent is $15,856 for an individual and $32,499 for a family of four.

The federal government pays 100 percent of expansion costs in the first three years and no less than 90 percent thereafter.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, made the motion to scuttle Nevers’ bill.

“I agree we can do a better job. I disagree that this is the answer,” Claitor said.

Proponents quoted the Bible about responsibility for caring those in need, pitched the health and economic benefits that would result and appealed for help because they fall in the “Jindal gap” — some of the 240,000 people in Louisiana making too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to get coverage through the new federal health insurance exchanges.

“People have already died because we failed to expand Medicaid in this state,” said Nevers, D-Bogalusa, as he prepared to address the committee. “They have already died because government did not act. Those people who have perished, their blood is on someone’s hands.”

“Without health insurance and access to MS drugs it worries me,” said Marlene Wilkerson, a single mom who works part-time and goes to the University of New Orleans. “I don’t want to be a burden ... I want to live the very best life with MS.”

Opponents countered that the Medicaid expansion would be “catastrophic to state finances” and add to an already overburdened program.

“The cost to Louisiana taxpayers could reach into the billions,” said state Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert.

She said 174,000 of the eligible residents would move from private coverage to the government program if the state expands Medicaid disrupting “the fragile balance of our health care marketplace.”

She said the state’s revamped private safety-net hospitals are available for those who need it.

“These are able-bodied working individuals we will be putting on government provided health care,” said Phillip Joffrion. state director for Americans for Prosperity.

Among opponents were representatives of Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party, the Louisiana Republican Party and the Pelican Institute for Public Policy.

Among those testifying on Nevers’ bill were former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, D-La., who now is a Washington, D.C., lobbyist; U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans; a senior policy adviser for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.; health care professionals, the chief of the Louisiana Hospital Association, an official of the Louisiana Catholic Bishops; legislators, and members of the public.

Breaux said the issue rises above “partisan politics.” The committee voted along party lines.

Voting YES to defer SB96 (6): state Sens. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia; Bret Allain, R-Franklin; Sherri Buffington, R-Keithville; Claitor; Dale Erdey, R-Livingston; and Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas.

Voting AGAINST deferral of SB96 (2): Sens. Nevers and Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge.