Jindal pilot plan advances

Finance chairman worried about costs to cover health care

An attempt to test Gov. Bobby Jindal’s national health care plan in Louisiana cleared another legislative hurdle Monday.

The state Senate Finance Committee shipped legislation to the full Senate that would require the state Department of Health and Hospitals to develop a Louisiana plan based on broad outlines in Jindal’s “America Next” proposal.

The action happened as Jindal used a national forum to criticize President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and to tout his own his plan.

Jindal wrote Monday in a column for Fox News that his America Next plan would “focus like a laser beam on reducing costs” in contrast to the federal Affordable Care Act’s “surging costs.”

State Sen. Ben Nevers, of Bogalusa, has been a key Democrat pushing Jindal to accept billions of dollars in federal incentives to expand Medicaid rolls — changing the eligibility rules so that more of the working poor would qualify for the government health insurance plan — that is a key part of “Obamacare.” Nevers’ various efforts last year and this year failed.

Nevers rewrote one of his own bills, now Senate Bill 682 , to mirror Jindal’s national initiative, saying Louisiana should give it a try first.

SB682 originally called for the Department of Health and Hospitals to develop and implement the Jindal-based Louisiana plan.

But putting Jindal’s plan into effect bothered Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue.

“The fiscal note is pretty scary,” said Donahue, R-Mandeville. He said the Legislature’s fiscal adviser could not estimate costs without knowing plan specifics.

“You would have everybody supporting development, but requiring its implementation regardless of costs. To me that’s a problem,” Donahue said.

Nevers said he did not want to increase costs. He also pointed to language that the Jindal administration wanted in the bill requiring cost-effectiveness and no new taxes.

Senate Finance amended the measure to require prior approval of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget before DHH puts into practice any part of the Jindal’s America Next plan that it develops for Louisiana.

Nevers calls the measure the “Louisiana First, America Next Freedom and Empowerment Plan,” adding Louisiana First to Jindal’s name for the initiative.

Nevers said his Democratic colleagues are not really happy with him. But he realized Medicaid expansion legislation wasn’t getting anywhere.

“Certainly, I believe there’s an opportunity to move forward with this plan and benefit our citizens,” Nevers said. “It’s an opportunity to provide better access, better quality health care at no cost to our citizens.”

According to the legislation, 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 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.

DHH chief of staff Calder Lynch said parts of Jindal’s plan would require federal law and regulation changes. The state health agency would take elements of the governor’s plan that can be implemented at a state level and adopt it for Louisiana use, he said.

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