BATON ROUGE (AP) — A state senator alleged Monday that Gov. Bobby Jindal's decision to refuse expansion of the state's Medicaid program under the recently upheld federal health care law is akin to him signing a death warrant for community hospitals.
State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, head of the Louisiana Democratic Party, spoke Monday at the Press Club of Baton Rouge about the Medicaid cuts the Jindal administration announced Friday and the Republican governor's rejection of the federal health care overhaul in Louisiana. Under the law, the federal government would pay most of the costs for expanding Medicaid to poor state residents who lack coverage.
Peterson said Jindal has failed in his duty as governor by ignoring the significant improvements the law would bring to the state's uninsured citizens.
"The important part is this: We got a certain number of dollars to be used wisely in this state. We can be smart or we can be stupid. And to deny health care, especially preventive care, on the front end will cost every one of us, whether you need Medicaid or not, a bundle on the back end while these people continue to use emergency rooms as a primary care office," she said.
"Insurance means that...care is there when you need it," she added. "But in Louisiana right now, that's a pretty sad joke."
Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates said the federal health care law is bad policy that will break the bank and raise taxes on Louisiana families and businesses. The best way to provide health care to citizens is not to create entitlement programs, but to help employ them, she said.
"Senator Peterson is mistaken if she thinks we can just print new money like Washington, D.C.," Bates said. "We are taking the exact opposite approach of Senator Peterson, President Obama and their liberal allies in Washington."
The state Department of Health and Hospitals said Friday that $329 million of the almost $523 million in Medicaid cuts will fall mostly on the public health care system run by LSU's network of charity hospitals and clinics. Twenty percent of the state's population, or 886,000 people, are uninsured residents and hospital officials have said they will not be able to shoulder the cuts without having to shutter some facilities and cut half of the funding the system gets for treating the uninsured.
Peterson said Jindal's decision will ultimately end up denying 356,000 people affordable health care coverage.
"If I sound angry, I am," she said.
Jindal said that after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act that he would push for a full repeal, saying it was a "blow to our freedoms." He's criticized the cost of the law passed in 2010 and the increased reliance on government-run programs for services.
The health care law calls for Louisiana to expand Medicaid coverage up to 133 percent of the poverty level and for the federal government to pay the full cost of the coverage expansion in the first three years, starting in 2014. The law also requires states to set up a state-run health insurance market.
Health officials have said the Medicaid expansion would cost Louisiana $3.7 billion over 10 years, plus an additional $400 million in administrative costs.
"The ink wasn't even dry on the Supreme Court decision upholding the patient protection Affordable Care Act before Governor Jindal unilaterally announced that Louisiana would not be participating in either Medicaid expansion or in the creation of the state health insurance program," Peterson said.
She said Jindal offers no alternatives to the federal health care law despite opposing it so adamantly.
"It's selfish as he goes around the country touting his resistance to federal laws to bolster his own vice presidential predictions while the Louisiana healthcare system crumbles," she said.