After a long rocky road of politics, Louisiana today joins the 30 other states expanding health insurance coverage for the working poor.
Our state struggles with poor families making low wages in general. When the rising cost of health care come into the picture, the struggling can all too often become the overwhelmed.
That is the reality on the street. The uninsured have put off treatment until minor conditions become major ones, leading to emergency room visits that raise the cost of health care for everyone, insured or not.
We believe Gov. John Bel Edwards is right to celebrate this expansion, just as his predecessor Bobby Jindal was wrong to oppose it.
And because the state gets a significant benefit in higher matching rates under the Medicaid program, this is a significant win for today’s troubled state budget. The working estimate is a $184 million benefit to the state during this new fiscal year.
We can’t prove that every candidate who succeeded Jindal would have probably opted for the expansion, but we suspect they would have. The urgency of the financial crisis would have left few other options to U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, who faced Edwards in the runoff; while Vitter had been an opponent of the law known as Obamacare, the senator made a point in the campaign of saying he would not rule out changing Jindal’s policy and expanding Medicaid.
The Affordable Care Act caps the formula for the Medicaid expansion at 90 percent federal and 10 percent state. That is significantly better than the current Medicaid match.
But even if it were not such a good deal from the state budget viewpoint, Medicaid expansion can be expected to improve the financial outlook of the public-private partnerships that run public hospitals across the state. Smaller rural hospitals will be particular beneficiaries as well.
As Jindal often pointed out, Medicaid is not a perfect program. Reimbursement rates can be too low, as U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy has often mentioned. Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, is a physician who treats poor patients at LSU to the extent that time allows with his day job.
While we understand his concerns, we believe that the benefits of expansion far outweigh the costs.
“This isn’t just about expanding health care coverage or saving money,” Health Department Secretary Rebekah Gee said. She is also a physician who has helped the poor at LSU in New Orleans. “We want healthier people in Louisiana. We want more productive people in Louisiana.”
A healthier workforce is good for the families directly involved but it also is good for the society of which we are all a part.
The debate about money and budgets is one thing, but the reality is that the good that Medicaid expansion provides depends on the work of physicians and nurses at the institutions which aid the sick. We applaud their work.