Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus to try again to expand Medicaid _lowres

Advocate Photo By MARK BALLARD – Members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus on Tuesday, from left to right, state Reps. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge; Vincent J. Pierre, D-Lafayette; Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas; state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe; Bishop L. Lawrence Brandon, of Praise Temple Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral in Shreveport; and State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge.

The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus will try again to expand Medicaid coverage for about 300,000 people they say don’t make enough money to buy health insurance on their own, the group’s leader said Tuesday.

This would be the third attempt to adopt a key component of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Legislators have shot down the previous attempts.

“We know national Republicans are against the ACA. It has spilled over into Louisiana,” said state Rep. Katrina Jackson, who chairs the black caucus

Jackson’s remarks followed a Black Caucus sponsored prayer breakfast attended by about 400 politicians and pastors.

Several bills have been filed in the legislative session that began last week to accomplish that goal.

Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes Medicaid expansion, arguing that despite lucrative federal incentives for adding more people to the government insurance program, eventually Louisiana taxpayers will have to start paying toward its cost. He also argues that the expansion builds on what he calls a broken health care system.

But none of that was discussed when Jindal appeared at the prayer breakfast.

He kept his short talk to religious themes, not even delving into the controversial “religious freedom” legislation that the governor has backed. Instead he talked about prayer.

“It is great to come together with legislators, pastors and members of the community to pray for our state and for God’s guidance as we enter the legislative session,” Jindal said.

He spoke of “Union, Confidence, Justice,” which is the state’s motto.

“Union, because we are unified in the love of God and in the love we have for our state,” Jindal said. Confidence because God gives people the spirit of power and love. “And justice because we are all created by God and equal under the law, and I commend the Caucus for their pursuit of justice each day.”

And Jackson, D-Monroe, said she didn’t discuss issues Jindal because the event was not political. This is the third black caucus prayer breakfast Jindal has addressed.

After the plates of scrambled eggs and grits were cleared, the pastors and Jindal had left, Jackson and other members of the black caucus outlined their agenda for the legislative session that began last week and continues until 6 p.m. on June 11.

The black caucus is backing legislation to raise the minimum wage and to loosen laws requiring harsh prison terms for relatively minor offenses.

But they will place special emphasis on getting the Jindal administration and the majority of their fellow lawmakers to reverse course and expand the state’s Medicaid rolls.

State Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe, said the difference between this legislative session and previous years is the economic pressures caused by a $1.6 billion shortfall in expected revenues. Legislators with both parties are concerned that the only alternative to not finding new revenues is deep, deep cuts in higher education and health care.

Under Medicaid expansion, the federal government would pay hundreds of millions of dollars over several years, if the state would change its eligibility requirements and allow the working poor to join the million-plus residents on the government health plan.

“It’s absolutely an economic issue,” Hunter said.

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