Inside Report: Medicaid issue sparks political sparring

It started out as a telephone conference call to tout a survey on the economic benefits to Louisiana if Gov. Bobby Jindal agreed to embrace the Medicaid expansion in the federal health-care revamp.

But by day’s end, the point of the call got drowned out by the politics.

The report released by Families USA and the Louisiana Consumer Healthcare Coalition said that the expansion would benefit 421,000 people and bring $1.1 billion annually into the state for health care. The new dollars would result in the creation of 15,600 new jobs and $1.8 billion in new economic activity, according to the analysis.

“If Gov. Jindal continues to refuse federal funds for Medicaid expansion he is committing fiscal malpractice,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Washington, D.C.,-based Families USA.

“If we accept funds for Medicaid expansion it will benefit every local economy in Louisiana ... benefit every sector of the state,” said Louisiana’s senior U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., another call participant.

While Pollack got in a jab at Jindal, Landrieu held back until the first question from a reporter.

Had Landrieu spoken personally to the governor about accepting the Medicaid expansion?

Landrieu said she had urged the Republican governor to embrace the change through correspondence and public comments. “If I thought a personal conversation would have any effect, I would have done so a year ago,” Landrieu said. “He just seems to be adamant about putting his political future ahead of the economic interests of the people of Louisiana.”

And so started a political tit-for-tat that stretched from midmorning into the night between the state’s top Democrat, who is up for re-election in 2014, and the GOP governor with an affinity for the national limelight.

First there came calls to reporters from Jindal’s political operative Timmy Teepell, who’s with the national political strategy firm of OnMessage Inc., in Washington, D.C.

Teepell claimed the attack on Jindal came because Landrieu was miffed at the governor calling out President Barack Obama for using “scare tactics” on federal budget cuts going into effect Friday and at the governor suggesting the federal health revamp be put on hold.

Then, Jindal’s office released a statement that started with an attack on Landrieu.

“Sen. Landrieu voted to cut Louisiana’s Medicaid program by over a billion dollars and now she’s worried about Louisiana families? Sounds like she’s gearing up for another campaign,” Jindal said in the statement.

Soon after, Jindal’s health chief, Bruce Greenstein, scheduled a telephone conference call for more rebuttal.

Enter Landrieu, who issued “Fact Check: Setting Straight Gov. Jindal’s False and Fictitious Medicaid Expansion Claims” — reminiscent of a Jindal tactic to rebut published reports and statements with which the governor disagrees.

Among Landrieu’s five points — it’s a fact that Landrieu “championed” at Jindal’s request legislation that led to Louisiana getting more than $1.2 billion in Medicaid funds after they were threatened, the missive said. Last year’s Medicaid cut — included in a federal transportation bill compromise — was reduced because of her efforts.

Landrieu also notes that the entire Louisiana delegation voted for the transportation bill, with the Medicaid cut, because of the RESTORE Act and $1.4 billion in transportation funding for Louisiana.

The day ended with another release from the governor’s office “in response to today’s nasty political attack on the governor by Senator Landrieu.”

And so the political theater goes on.

Marsha Shuler covers health-care issues for the Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Her email address is mshuler@theadvocate.com.