Our Views: New report, old conclusion

With no fanfare at all, the state Department of Health and Hospitals quietly released an update on its previous, and highly negative, opinion of expanding Medicaid health coverage for the poor in Louisiana.

The DHH report was hailed by those pushing the idea of joining in the Affordable Care Act’s plan — aka Obamacare — to expand Medicaid. If it is more affordable for the state, or at least more affordable than DHH earlier estimated, then pressure on Gov. Bobby Jindal to agree to the expansion will increase.

But remember DHH’s conclusion: They’re still against it.

The new DHH estimates say Louisiana could save from $197 million to $368 million over 10 years while covering more than 400,000 additional people through Medicaid.

The savings come from reducing existing state costs for providing health care to the uninsured, largely through the charity hospital system, which Jindal is busily privatizing on a rush basis.

On the high end, if 653,000 new people are covered and the Medicaid expansion forces up the rates paid to doctors and other health care providers, the report says the state could face a price tag topping $1.7 billion over a decade.

That is over 10 years, though, and reflects only a relatively small additional expense for Medicaid. A DHH spokeswoman called it risky, but is it that risky?

The payoff will be a healthier population, as the expansion will cover people who are working adults aged 19 to 64.

“This important report confirms what we already knew — that Medicaid expansion is a clear winner for Louisiana working families and taxpayers,” Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, said in a statement. “We are glad the state health department took another look at this issue and revisited its earlier conclusions.”

Along with many other groups representing health care providers, the Louisiana Hospital Association recently endorsed the expansion.

We agree that DHH ought to be commended for taking a hard look at the data, particularly as respected national analysts at the Kaiser Family Foundation had found the costs lower than DHH had earlier estimated.

But the new data is only as useful as a new political outlook by the governor and Legislature, an outlook that is based on making working families healthier instead of persisting in opposition to a program that has President Barack Obama’s name on it.