State Health Secretary Rebekah Gee’s committee testimony Wednesday refuting the notion that the administration hasn’t tapped into the all the federal money available through Medicaid expansion was just a footnote in a long day of hearings. Still, the incident tells us a lot about the painful budget negotiations that have been happening nonstop ever since her boss, Gov. John Bel Edwards, took office.
The most striking takeaway is that some lawmakers and lobbyists are still hoping for an out, a way to avoid having to raise revenue or cut services that Louisianans want and expect.
For all the talk of living within the state’s means, some are still imagining that lightning will strike and a pot of money will magically emerge to save them from having to take tough votes — which was pretty much the m.o. of former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who wound up bequeathing a $3 billion, two-year budget shortfall to Edwards. I could be wrong, but given how motivated administration officials are to maximize savings from the expansion and lessen the budget shortfall, I find the idea that they missed something big farfetched. But the dream lives on.
And can we talk for a moment about the irony that the idea is being circulated by one of Jindal’s health secretaries, Bruce Greenstein, whose power point on the subject is apparently making the rounds in conservative circles?
Jindal, of course, rejected expansion, insisting until the end that largely federally funded expansion under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act would be a financial loser for the state. Once in office, Edwards eagerly signed up, and his administration estimates the move will save $184 million next year alone. That’s a hefty number, even if Greenstein now says it could be higher.
Meanwhile, Gee’s department announced that nearly 200,000 newly eligible low-income Louisianans have signed up for health coverage since enrollment kicked off last week. Maybe the timing was intentional, maybe not. But it prompts a serious question: If Greenstein, who left office under a legal cloud, now thinks there’s so much money to be saved and if so many people could have been helped in the process, why again did Jindal refuse?
Never mind. We all know the answer to that one.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.