Tuesday, 28 April 2015 18:35

Getting curious over Louisiana Medicaid expansion hearings tomorrow

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Health reformIt's getting curiouser and curiouser these days at the Louisiana Capitol wonderland.

Medicaid expansion, the Obama ogre healthcare solution, is getting another look on Wednesday and advocates on both sides of the issue are at the battle lines.


Nothing curious about that.

However, unlike the past two years, those opposed to a major component of Obamacare might be there but somewhat on the other side—even if Governor Bobby Jindal is not. 

As would be expected, an organization called Louisiana Progress sent out an emailing calling for action in favor of Medicaid expansion, which in part, said:

Tomorrow morning, three bills toexpandMedicaid in Louisiana as part of the Affordable Care Act will be heard by the House Health and Welfare Committee. Louisiana Progress Action supports these bills and will be providing testimony to the committee. To learn more aboutMedicaidexpansion in Louisiana, clickhere and here.Medicaidexpansion has always been a critical issue for our state, but in light of the current budget crisis we are facing, it is now more important than ever.

On Monday, the Louisiana chapter of the Koch Brothers group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) had its say on the issue, which also in part said:

"ExpandingaMedicaidis no better an idea than it was when Louisianans rejected it in 2013 and 2014," Joffrion said. "In fact, now we have more evidence that it's a terrible one. States that have acceptedexpansionare predictably facing cost overruns, adding to the sea of red ink Americans face at all levels of government. Lawmakers in Louisiana should focus on eliminating our $1.6 billion deficit, not making it even worse."

AFP-Louisiana particularly let lawmakers know they would oppose HB517 and HCR 3, sponsored by Rep. John Bel Edwards, and HB 560 from Rep. Barbara Norton. Joffrion said he expected to continue educating citizens on the phone and at the door, while pressing lawmakers to oppose expansion. 

But with a $1.6B budget deficit, the walls of opposition might be crumbling.

As the AP reported on Tuesday, “As Louisiana struggles with budget troubles, private hospitals are offering lawmakers a way to draw down more federal health care dollars for patient care, but only if the money is used to expand coverage through the Medicaid program.

Legislation filed by House leaders would let the state tap into a voter-backed plan that allows hospitals to pool their dollars and use that money to attract new federal Medicaid money to compensate them for their care for the poor.

The proposal, developed by the Louisiana Hospital Association, would let the private hospitals share in the state’s cost for the Medicaid expansion allowed under the federal health overhaul. In turn, the move would help the cash-strapped state bring in more money to fill gaps in the health budget, as hospitals are threatened with reductions to their payments.

“I think it’s just something that we need to put on the table. It’s clearly an option that we can work on to help solve our health care challenges here in the state,” said House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, who is sponsoring the legislation.

As the AP further reported, the legislation would need 2/3 vote and as a concurrent resolution, would not need the governor’s approval.  The thinking is that with the major candidates for Louisiana governor claiming they will consider expansion of Obamacare, setting up a funding mechanism for the new administration could be helpful should the new governor approve the plan, even if Jindal does not during the  course of his remaining lame-duck term.

Which legislation co-authored by the Republican Speaker of the House just might explain an unusual and "curious" statement that he and Republican Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Joel  Robideaux co-wrote that subtly dissed Governor Bobby Jindal while at the same time let it be known that radical political change is a-coming.  That change would take place in the legislature on budget issues in the form of the dreaded word in legislative parlance--compromise--even if those decision on certain votes might result in political pain, for those voting.  

In particular, Robideaux was quoted to say, "

“Our constituents sent us here to represent them,” he told the committee. “Making difficult and unpopular decisions is included in that representation. Whether we are term-limited, running for re-election, running for some other office, or running for President of the United States, our job is to do what is best for the people of Louisiana. Nothing else matters.” 

The letter, sent by email, stated:

With higher education and health care on the brink of suffering devastating cuts, leaders in the state House of Representatives have assembled a package of bills aimed at not only solving the state’s current financial problems but also setting the state on a more financially sound course for future years.

“The recent news of LSU’s contingency budget planning is hard evidence that we have to establish a stable and sustainable method for funding higher education,” said Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles. “I have been conferring with House members and our colleagues in the Senate to develop options and build consensus.

“I am asking the members of the House to do what is necessary to protect our colleges and universities,” he said. “These are difficult times, but we owe it to our students and our state's future economy to invest in higher education.  It’s vital to our ability to move forward and progress.”

Protecting higher education and healthcare is a primary goal in the budget reform package, Kleckley said. “We have to try to solve the problem without placing higher education in jeopardy.”

Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, said it’s up to the Legislature to act. Robideaux is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee that will first consider the package of bills,

“I am convinced that any budget solution will have to be legislatively driven,” he said. “The only way we can succeed is for all us here in the Legislature to work together; House and Senate, regardless of party, race, gender or political ambition.”

Robideaux said the state has approved numerous business tax exemptions aimed at luring business and industries to the state with the goal of stimulating the state economy.

“Over the last eight years, we’ve invested a significant amount of the state’s operating revenue in new tax incentives with the expectation that these incentives would grow the private sector economy and thus provide government with additional the revenue that comes from private sector growth,” Robideaux told the committee today.

“Eight years are behind us and we are still waiting for the incentives to work as we planned. For eight years we’ve made cuts to agencies, healthcare and higher education,” he said. “We’ve cobbled together budgets using various forms of one-time money, all in an effort to avoid the type of draconian cuts healthcare and higher education are facing today.”

Robideaux said Ways and Means will meet before and after sessions of the full House to tackle bills in the package.

“Our constituents sent us here to represent them,” he told the committee. “Making difficult and unpopular decisions is included in that representation. Whether we are term-limited, running for re-election, running for some other office, or running for President of the United States, our job is to do what is best for the people of Louisiana. Nothing else matters.”

Getting curiouser?

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Stephen Sabludowsky



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