Political arguments at the State Capitol continue to overwhelm the policy arguments over expanding Medicaid insurance coverage for the working poor.
It’s as if the legislators set fire to piles of federal funding on the lawn in front of Huey P. Long’s statue, even as the state budget crumbles in the halls inside.
Committees of the House and Senate voted almost along party lines, with most Republicans opposed and most Democrats in favor, to kill the expansion of health insurance that would be funded by the Affordable Care Act. That law’s nickname, “Obamacare,” continues to frighten Republicans, even at the state level — and even as the arithmetic argues for Louisiana joining other states in expanding insurance. Today, Medicaid is sharply restricted to the poorest in Louisiana or to the elderly in nursing homes.
At about 138 percent of the federal poverty level, about 240,000 Louisianians would get some level of insurance of some type if Medicaid were expanded.
Is 138 percent of the poverty line a lot of money? For a family of three, it’s $27,724 — meaning that working in low-wage jobs results in no health insurance coverage except for minor children. The irony is that Jindal once avidly promoted Medicaid coverage for Louisiana children. Mix in the name “Obamacare” and it’s a no-go zone.
This is wrong.
Across the nation, many states — led by Democrats and Republicans — have opted for health insurance coverage for the working poor. The U.S. government has given several states waivers to design programs with a decidedly conservative approach to the program, something Louisiana isn’t even going to try.
The result of more coverage is more financial stability for hospitals and other health care providers, an important issue in many cities in Louisiana today, as privatized versions of public hospitals still are struggling to make their finances work.
A healthier workforce is good for everybody, but particularly because under the dreaded “Obamacare,” the U.S. government would pick up 100 percent of the cost of the expanded Medicaid funding at first and 90 percent thereafter. That’s a significantly better return on the regular Medicaid match that the state is now struggling to meet.
We don’t know if the estimates of 15,000 new health care jobs would pan out, but if it’s anywhere close to that number, state Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, is right to call it “the best economic development tool we have seen in years.”
But even with a catastrophic budget deficit, many legislators aren’t going to risk being criticized for doing the right thing.