Washington — If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down health insurance subsidies when it rules this summer on a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, Louisiana will not take steps to preserve the subsidies for the more than 150,000 state residents now relying on them for coverage, Gov. Bobby Jindal said Thursday.
That decision is in keeping with Jindal’s call for a complete repeal of the 2010 health law — a position he emphasized in a speech to a forum marking the fifth anniversary of the ACA, also called “Obamacare.”
“If we mean anything as a conservative movement, we need to stand against government dependency,” Jindal said as the keynote speaker at the forum, which was hosted by the right-leaning Washington Examiner newspaper.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in March on the challenge to the ACA subsidies provided to low- and middle-income insurance buyers in the three dozen states, including Louisiana, that did not set up state health insurance exchanges and, instead, rely on a federally operated exchange. In Louisiana, the average subsidy of $322 a month reduces the cost of insurance to $108 a month, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“In Louisiana, we’ve made it very clear: We’re not doing a state exchange” to keep the subsidies intact if the Supreme Court upholds the challenge, Jindal said.
The law is the signature legislative achievement of Democratic President Barack Obama, and it is a prime target of Republican attacks. But a sudden cut-off of subsidies for the more than 7 million Americans receiving them nationwide could generate a political backlash, and many Republicans in Congress are working on legislative responses to a potential ruling so as to soften the blow without repealing the law in total. They hope that a Republican will get elected president next year and the law can be repealed and replaced after the winner takes office in 2017. Obama would be sure to veto any major restructuring of the ACA, and it is doubtful opponents of the law could overturn a veto in Congress.
But Jindal thinks that strategy plays into Obama’s hands.
“I think he’s been very successful having Republicans and having conservatives debate health care on his terms,” he said.
Jindal, 43, is an all-but-declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination — he is delaying a formal announcement until after the session of the state Legislature ends in June — and he has called on all the potential contenders to propose a complete replacement for Obamacare, as he has done on the America Next website that serves as a platform for his policy proposals. That distinguishes him in the Republican field, he has said.
Jindal’s plan would offer a tax deduction for health insurance purchases. It would distribute $10 billion a year among the states, which would be encouraged to help low-income insurance buyers with purchases and to set up coverage mechanisms for people with pre-existing conditions or who are otherwise high risks for health insurance. He would finance the $10 billion pool with reforms to Medicare and Medicaid and to medical litigation. His plan emphasizes consumer choice and does not include an ACA-like mandate to purchase insurance, and it does not set universal coverage as a goal.
“I actually think freedom is a good thing,” he said. “I think it’s a mistake to measure success by how many (insurance) cards people have when it’s not meaningful access” to quality health care.
Jindal’s brief speech was followed by a question-and-answer session, and he displayed a command of health policy that reflected his expertise in the field: He is a former head of the Louisiana Department. of Health and Hospitals and also served in a high-ranking position in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The forum was originally scheduled for March but was postponed when a gas leak forced evacuation of the building in downtown Washington where it was held.
“Maybe the Obama administration found out what we were up to and interfered with the original meeting date,” Jindal said.
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