Fighting for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana
7th April 2014 · 0 Comments
By Michael Patrick Welch
Along I-10 between Baton Rouge and Port Allen, a billboard using the same colors and font as the state of Louisiana’s ‘Pick Your Passion” tourism campaign also declares, “But hope you don’t love your health. Jindal’s denying Medicaid to 242,000 people.”
Louisiana’s Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and the state sued the billboard’s creator, left-leaning advocacy group MoveOn.org, for copyright infringement. “We have invested millions of dollars in identifying the ‘Louisiana: Pick Your Passion’ brand with all that is good about Louisiana,” Dardenne said in a statement. “No group should be allowed to use the brand for its own purposes, especially if it is for partisan political posturing.”
The healthcare fight is on in Louisiana, one of around two-dozen states still limiting citizens’ usage of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Louisiana’s Governor Jindal famously refused $16 billion for Medicaid expansion. In a recent pro-ACA statement, Mary Landrieu went to bat for Medicaid expansion, saying it will provide much needed healthcare to the hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents who, “earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid, but not enough to afford coverage in the new marketplaces.”
Either way, Louisiana taxpayers’ money goes to fund the program in the other 25 states that have accepted it. “Louisiana is sending dollars to DC to take care of other cities’ populations,” says Senator Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa). “I think that’s terrible. Those dollars could be sent back to us to take care of our own people.”
Because Louisiana is often ranked near the bottom in American states as far as health is concerned, many folks seem to disagree with Jindal, and Sen. Nevers has introduced three new pieces of legislation aimed at expanding Medicaid in Louisiana – the most important being SB 96, which demands a constitutional amendment to let the voters decide whether Louisiana will accept federal money and expand Medicaid.
“The ACA will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in state general funds alone,” said Nevers, who projects it would also create a projected 15,000 jobs in Louisiana by 2016.
Nevers says he is looking at how Medicaid was implemented in Arkansas, where the infusion of federal dollars was used to pay the premiums for private insurance for those who fell between zero and 130 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. “The other models I’m looking at are the ones in Pennsylvania and Michigan,” Nevers said. “I’ve looked at those plans, and the thing that’s different is that SB 96 allows hospital[s] to submit a plan that’s tailor made for Louisiana.”
This is not Nevers’ first time trying to win a vote on Medicaid expansion issue for the citizens of Louisiana. In June 2013, during a debate on House Bill 532, Democrats led by Nevers proposed a constitutional amendment that would have let voters decide if Louisiana would allow hospitals to draw down federal funds in the same way Jindal’s administration draws down federal matching funds for transportation, road construction, education and other government needs.
Nevers says that local hospitals (including Jefferson’s two public hospitals, currently locked in a stalemate over who will lease those properties in the future) must surely be considering options to stave off pressure from private insurers to contain costs, and to fall in line with the ACA’s many new changes. “I would think any hospital would have to consider what’s going to happen over the next 10 years with funding,” says Nevers. “The reductions to many of our huge hospitals are going to take will be a huge hit if we don’t expand Medicaid.”
However, Nevers’ first attempt failed. Now, his new SB 96 will be heard by the Health and Welfare Committee on April 23 because, he says, “Louisiana should determine what kind of plan is implemented in Louisiana.”
As for MoveOn’s I-10 billboard, the group considers its statement to be parody protected by the First Amendment. The billboard is one of nine such statements by MoveOn.org in states that have rejected Medicaid expansion. “The campaign looks different in every state,” says Nick Berning, communications director for MoveOn.org, who says the group is not affiliated with Nevers despite fighting for the same cause. “We influence what legislators are hearing,” says Berning. “MoveOn does public advocacy and grassroots advertising to help build support for [bills such as SB 96]. We help let people like Senator Nevers know that this issue is something constituents want them to address.”
Last week the U.S. District Court held a hearing to decide on a preliminary injunction. “Both Lt. Gov. Dardenne and his team was there and made the state’s case,” says Berning. “And our attorneys were there and made our case. The court will hopefully make a ruling sometime early next week. We think we have a very strong case and are optimistic.”
This article originally published in the April 7, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.