‘Historic’ changes for Louisiana food stamp program as Gov. John Bel Edwards inks executive order _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK – On his 100th day in office, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards fields questions from callers during his first "Ask the Governor" radio show with Jim Engster at Louisiana Radio Network in Baton Rouge.

Gov. John Bel Edwards says he's not a proponent of shifting toward a single-payer health system "right now," as the nation's leaders continue to mull changes to the federal health care laws.

"I'm not going to say never — that's a long time," Edwards said when asked about the "Medicare for All" movement during his monthly call-in radio show. "I don't support it today."

Democrats have been increasingly embracing the Medicare for All single-payer proposal that was championed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the 2016 presidential campaign, as Republicans, including President Donald Trump, struggle to reach an agreement on their own effort to repeal and replace the federal Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. Senate has faced repeated roadblocks in recent weeks as various proposals have unraveled from defections.

"I think you've got some states that are trying to experiment with it to see what that would look like and whether it would work," Edwards said of the single-payer model that has won traction in the more left-leaning corners of his party. "Going to a single-payer system certainly has some advantages, I suspect, but that's not where I am at right now."

Edwards said he prefers that lawmakers work to "refine" the current system in place and has called on all sides to come together to work toward a bipartisan approach to help stabilize insurance markets and draw down costs. He and 10 other governors signed onto a bipartisan statement urging Congress to come together to reach a bipartisan solution.

"The one thing that has been absent from all the legislation in Congress is anything that actually lowers the cost of health care," Edwards said.

The position puts Edwards, Louisiana's only statewide elected Democrat and the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, in line with the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party and the party's leaders in Congress.

As Republicans have worked to dismantle the health care system put into place under President Barack Obama, a mix of health care activists and high-profile progressive Democrats have increasingly been talking up Medicare for All as an alternative that they say could gain traction.

Medicare is the country’s main health insurance program for people who are 65 or older. It's widely popular, and during his campaign for president, Trump repeatedly pledged that Medicare wouldn't be cut under him.

Under Medicare for All, the single-payer system would be extended to cover everyone. 

"Our job today is to do everything possible to defeat this terrible legislation, which will harm so many people," Sanders said during a rally in Kentucky earlier this month. "Our job tomorrow is to join every other major country on earth and guarantee health care for all as a right not a privilege through a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program."

The idea also has drawn support from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

"As for me, I'm not a proponent of the single-payer system," Edwards again stressed in his radio show.

Edwards fielded several calls during his hour-long show about health care. He said he thinks that major issues with the ACA are linked to private insurance and exchanges.

"I think everybody agrees that system needs to be fixed," Edwards said.

But he touted Medicaid expansion, which he implemented through the Affordable Care Act shortly after taking office last year, among the successes.

More than 425,000 people have been added to the state's Medicaid rolls in the past year through the expansion.

"We were very careful in how we expanded in Louisiana," Edwards said.

Hours before Edwards' remarks, Trump hosted Republican senators for a luncheon at the White House, including Louisiana U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy, for another round of discussions on the attempted health care overhaul.

"I don't think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan unless we can give our people great health care," Trump told the room. "We're close. We're very close."

Just a day earlier, Trump appeared to have abandoned the push after the latest attempt unraveled, saying that Republicans should "let Obamacare fail" and then act. 

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.