Panel moves ‘America Next’ copy

Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman David Heitmeier lifted into the air green cards signed by bill supporters.

Heitmeier noted it was a lot different Wednesday than a couple of weeks ago when red cards of opposition met state Sen. Ben Nevers and his Medicaid expansion legislation.

“This is a historic event,” said Heitmeier, D-New Orleans.

Nevers wasn’t pushing Medicaid expansion this time around — the “Obamacare” option that Gov. Bobby Jindal has rejected.

He was asking the Senate committee to ditch his legislation and approve a plan that mirrors Jindal’s national health care policy alternative called “America Next.”

“This is an alternative for those who don’t philosophically or otherwise agree with Medicaid expansion ... who want state flexibility,” Nevers said.

“It’s not about partisan politics,” the Bogalusa Democrat said. “It’s nothing but providing access.”

Sitting beside Nevers was Jindal’s health secretary, Kathy Kliebert, supporting “Louisiana First America Next” — a Louisiana pilot of Jindal’s brainchild.

The panel approved the revamped Senate Bill 107 legislation, which is short on specifics and fiscal analysis of impact.

Jindal has introduced the plan as he tries raise his national recognition and possible presidential bid.

“All of this is flexible because that’s the way the governor wanted it to be,” Nevers said.

But the flexibility and not knowing how Jindal’s Louisiana- specific plan would take shape left the Legislature’s fiscal advisers in a quandary.

“Until we see a plan, we cannot cost it out,” said Shawn Hotstream, a chief analyst for the Legislative Fiscal Office.

A copy of the rewritten bill was not available on the Legislature’s website late Wednesday. Because of the major change, the bill will get a new number.

As explained, the state Department of Health and Hospitals would be charged with creating and administering a Louisiana-specific health insurance program as well as promulgating the rules to implement it. The program would be funded with any money available.

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 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.

Kliebert’s agency is supposed to submit an outline specifying how it will seek to implement health care access improvements beginning Jan. 1.

In testimony, Kliebert called Jindal’s “America Next” plan “a conservative alternative to the Affordable Care Act.

“This bill, we believe, is an important step for the state to build the best health system in the country,” Kliebert said.

Nevers called it “ a freedom and empowerment plan.”

“I’m telling you the governor did a lot of work on this,” he said. “‘When I saw the governor’s signature on it, I believe he meant it.”