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House health committee rebuffs Medicaid expansion

Last Modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 10:13 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

BATON ROUGE — A House committee on Wednesday rejected the first of a half-dozen bills aimed at forcing Louisiana to join the expanded Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The 10-8 decision by the House Health and Welfare Committee came by a party-line vote. It followed a five-hour hearing. The 10 are Republicans, and the 8 are Democrats.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee debated a similar bill, but postponed its hearing for a week when it ran out of time.

Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes expanding the insurance program for the poor, calling it a costly and unworkable system that needs to be fixed. He said an expanded program could cost the state $1.7 billion over the next 10 years. Legislators who disagree are trying to force the state to join the program.

Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, is sponsor of House Bill 110. It would have required the secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals to take the actions necessary to expand the program along the lines provided for by Obamacare.

Norton opened and ended her remarks in the same fashion, telling committee members the votes they cast against her bill would come back up again when voters go to the polls.

“I will be making sure word goes out that you prevented people from getting additional benefits,” she said. 

During her closing remarks, Norton said, “Whatever you do will follow you the rest of your life. The future of the people in this state is in your hands. You have a responsibility to provide people with affordable health care.”

Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said more than 400,000 uninsured people would benefit with the state’s expansion of Medicaid. Both she and Norton said Louisiana would be leaving money on the table that would go to other states.

“I don’t understand why this is being so heavily debated,” Jackson said. “We are not debating the health care law. We are here to say it’s in place and we should take advantage.”

The point was made over and over again during the hearing that the federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs to expand the Medicaid program for the first three years. That would drop to 90 percent in succeeding years. Supporters of expansion also stressed that states can opt in and out of the expanded Medicaid program at any time.

Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, said an expanded program would increase employment by putting people to work.

Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, and chairman of the Republican House Delegation, said expansion of Medicaid is not a national issue. It has to do with fiscal responsibility in Louisiana now and in ensuing years, he said.

Funding is too unstable, he said, to be counted on. He talked about the reduction of federal medical assistance to the state from a 72 percent to a 61 percent federal match.

“The federal government changes its mind in midstream,” Harris said. “We are just as concerned about the health of Louisiana citizens, but how we get there is the issue.”

The federal Affordable Care Act won’t be fully implemented until 2014, Harris said. Even the U.S. senator who was a lead author of the act is concerned about its impact, he said.

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has said he is afraid the Affordable Care Act could be a train wreck for the nation, Harris said.

Rep. A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles, who voted for Norton’s bill, said he had talked with senators from Maine and they told him their state was saving money under Medicaid expansion.

Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches, said Louisiana needs to help people become taxpayers so they can make it.

“Why won’t we help the least of our people for three years?” he said.

Harris said 248,000 people could go off private insurance plans to join an expanded Medicaid program.

“What happens to them?” he said. “It’s not easy to opt out, is it?”

Jackson said $1.6 billion in business investments have been made since Jindal took office.

“Can’t we make the same investment in our people?” she said.

Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, said he was disappointed the state doesn’t have a Plan B.

“If it’s a good plan, I will support it,” Havard said. “But no one in this room or in this country can tell me what’s in ACA. I won’t vote for expansion until I know what’s in it. I’m just afraid of the consequences to our businesses.”

Robert Tasman, associate director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the conference supports Medicaid expansion even though it still has serious concerns about other parts of Obamacare.

“It’s about the people,” he said of the expansion. “This is one of the most crucial issues of this session.”

Kathy Kliebert, interim secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals, and Jerry Phillips, undersecretary, explained why expansion of Medicaid is questionable. They said there are uncertainties in too many areas, and federal funding that continues to unravel tops the list.

“We have good estimates on our programs, but not on this one,” Kliebert said.

Barrow countered that the state deals with uncertainties all the time. 

Both DHH officials said there are more effective ways to deliver health care, and DHH isn’t giving up on those people who need assistance. It’s questionable, they said, whether the health care structure could handle the additional 600,000 people who would join an expanded program.

The two officials echoed other speakers who said Medicaid expansion is being rushed too quickly.

Posted By: F.C.Peters: On: 5/5/2013

Title: Citzen

Its clear to all that La.Republicans care more about the insurance industry than it does about the health 400,000 uninsured of Residents of this state witch they claim to love and care for and should be better represented than they have been doing in the past. Their refusal has Nothing to do with cost are benefits,but Ideological thickheadedness. Do the right thing,give La. what it needs,Affordable medical coverage for all!

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