When the new governor and Legislature take office next year, they will have a chance to reconsider one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decisions that has caused a lot of heartburn, perhaps literally in some cases. That is the expansion of Medicaid insurance coverage for the working poor.
Lawmakers this year, led by the governor and Republican majorities in the House and Senate, balked at expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.” The politics of the issue was toxic, but Obama is now in the last couple of years of his term. And the politics of the state budget crisis continue to argue that more federal reimbursement available for the Medicaid insurance is a deal too good for the state to pass up.
Today, in part because of the efforts of a young Bobby Jindal at the state health department, children in poverty are universally covered by Medicaid. It’s maybe not as good as private insurance but it’s far better than no insurance at all. Adults in Louisiana, though, suffer under one of the most restrictive income limits in the country for Medicaid; Obama proposes to raise the limit nationwide to just over the poverty line, so that people working in the lowest-wage jobs get coverage.
It’s working, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which reported that the number of uninsured in the U.S. is at a new low. The question for Louisiana is a narrow one: Are we going to accept the 90 percent reimbursement for expanded Medicaid coverage? It seems financially foolish not to.
Under a proposal championed this year by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, a resolution allows Louisiana hospitals to assess fees on themselves to attract more federal dollars for patient care. It will take effect only if the state agrees to the higher income limits for Medicaid envisioned in the federal law.
The Kleckley proposal is not an open-ended commitment but an option for the new governor and Legislature. Under the resolution’s terms, the decision would have to be made early next year.
We hope that candidates for governor and the Legislature will support this expansion. As of now, only Democrat John Bel Edwards — a persistent critic of Jindal — has explicitly committed to expanding Medicaid. That’s about 240,000 people who would get insurance coverage that they don’t have today.
Other candidates have talked more generally about taking up the idea. We continue to wonder what the hang-up is about agreeing in principle to something that will bring large sums of money to the state and make thousands of families healthier?
People need coverage of any kind to deal with health problems. Louisiana ought to take advantage of Medicaid expansion.