If you've heard Gov. John Bel Edwards speak in public, chances are you've heard him talk about Medicaid expansion.
He does this just about every time he goes in front of any large group, always updating the number of Louisianans who've signed up since he started the ball rolling last year — 417,000 and counting — and how many are now getting preventive care and treatment for newly discovered conditions.
Edwards did it again last week, when he addressed the Louisiana Legislature as lawmakers embarked on a two-month session that will address tax restructuring, prison reform and a host a other major issues, Medicaid not among them. So why bring it up then and there?
Nearly three-fourths of Louisiana residents approve of the state's decision to expand Medica…
One likely reason is that he feels a sense of satisfaction over having provided access to medical care for so many working poor Louisianans, helped hospitals balance their books, and, as he told the Legislature, saved the state nearly $200 million in the first year and a projected $300 million in the coming fiscal year.
"That’s money we have to use to better fund critical priorities, such as TOPS and higher education," he said.
But the real reason may be that this is a good political issue for him.
Just consider the results of LSU's new Louisiana survey. The poll, taken by the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at the Manship School of Mass Communication, found that the expansion of health coverage for the poor is wildly popular among Louisianans, far more popular than the larger law that created the opportunity.
Seventy-two percent of 1,012 poll-takers backed the expansion, which Edwards enacted after former Gov. Bobby Jindal refused and which calls for the federal government to pay at least 90 percent of the cost. Even a slight majority of Republicans, 51 percent, gave the move a thumbs-up, as did about 2/3 of those who make over $50,000 and are therefore unlikely to benefit from the expansion personally.
Compare that to just 42 percent overall who support the Affordable Care Act, the Obama-era health law that Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration tried, and failed, to repeal. In fact, the poll was taken between Feb. 23 and March 23, a period that overlapped with the contentious, closely-watched effort.
The GOP bill proposed phasing out Medicaid expansion, and the blowback — including at Congressional town halls at which patient after patient told personal stories of how the expansion helped them — played out all over television and the internet. That may well have focused respondents' attention on the subject. It certainly got the attention of politicians, not just Democrats like Edwards but Republicans from expansion states too, a number of whom said they couldn't support a repeal bill that left all these people without insurance.
Expanding Medicaid was one of Edwards' key campaign promises, and one of the few he was able to enact without having to go through a skeptical, Republican majority Legislature.
Edwards' winning platform also included proposals to make it more difficult to pay women less than men for the same work, and to modestly raise the state's minimum wage. Both efforts died last year, but polls show that both ideas are also popular with the public. This year's LSU poll found that more than 90 percent believe women should be paid the same as men for the same work. Last year's put support for the $1.25 an hour minimum wage increase Edwards is seeking over the long-stalled federal $7.25 minimum at 76 percent.
Gov. John Bel Edwards State of the State: April 10, 2017 (as prepared for delivery).
Edwards and his allies are going to try again during this session to pass legislation on both fronts. The gender equity package takes a different approach than in 2016, and Edwards predicted during a recent Advocate editorial board meeting that "we have a much better shot at meaningful legislation this year." On minimum wage, he simply pointed to the modesty of the proposal and popular support, and said he hasn't heard a principled argument "why in 2017 someone ought to be working for seven dollars and a quarter an hour."
Nobody who's watched the last year-plus play out would predict legislative success on either front, which may be one more reason why Edwards likes to talk about Medicaid. So far at least, it's the one major crowd-pleasing vow that he's been able to keep.