Our Views: A bonfire of billions

A pile of even $100 bills would rise many floors to reach a sum of $16 billion. And that’s how much money legislators are tossing away for the people of Louisiana by rejecting a sensible expansion of Medicaid insurance coverage for the working poor.

A party-line vote of Republicans over Democrats in the House Health and Welfare Committee killed a series of bills that would have brought billions for health care to Louisiana. The same committee in the Senate has also yielded to GOP pressure against the Affordable Care Act.

The GOP is flat wrong on this issue.

True, there is every reason to criticize parts of the Affordable Care Act, a giant federal law that has had both good and sometimes very ugly repercussions in the health care system. What is most reasonable about it, we think, is the coverage for the working poor — people who cannot afford insurance coverage.

Medicaid is not a perfect program, but the new law would pay for 100 percent of Louisiana’s costs in the first three years and 90 percent thereafter. It’s a matching program that is simply too generous to turn down, but politics has trumped common sense on this issue.

The estimate is that about 240,000 Louisiana residents would qualify under expanded Medicaid. That would cost the state some money over time, but given the generous support from the federal government, we are simply stunned about its summary rejection by lawmakers.

Leave aside the moral dimension, although that is huge. It is amazing that legislators, generally pretty well-off themselves, seem immune to the pain that can afflict people working in low-wage jobs and unable to afford health care.

But what is the point of the financial idiocy of turning down such a generous grant? Across state government, Republican lawmakers would be up in arms if the state failed to take advantage of federal programs that stretch state dollars for valuable services.

Yet because this program is associated with “Obamacare” financial reality flies out the State Capitol window.

This does not only hurt the potential recipients of health care; it hurts middle-class insured people whose hospital bills reflect the costs of covering people who break down and go to emergency rooms, the costliest way to get help.

Nor does rejection of this money help the state’s economy, as real jobs and goods would be purchased in the health care system with expanded Medicaid.

The GOP might as well have piled up that money on the State Capitol and set fire to it.