ACA.lhcexpansion034.032319

La. Attorney General Jeff Landry speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of the LHC Group home office campus Friday, March 22, 2019, in Lafayette, La.

Attorney General Jeff Landry is backing legislation he says will protect health care coverage for thousands of Louisiana residents if a lawsuit he's engaged in successfully overturns the federal Affordable Care Act.

"The truth is, we can do better," Landry said during a news conference Monday. "It gives us an opportunity right here in Louisiana to create and develop a better system."

Landry, a Republican running for re-election this year, held the news conference in his Capitol office to promote the proposed Healthcare Coverage for Louisiana Families Protection Act, which has been prefiled ahead of next week's start of the 2019 legislative session.

Under the proposal, insurers would be barred from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and from setting annual or lifetime limits on benefits. Both of those issues are covered under the existing Affordable Care Act.

The bill also would give broad authority to the Louisiana Insurance Commission to establish rules regarding what benefits health insurance policies must cover, if the ACA, commonly called Obamacare, is eliminated through a court decision.

Landry has joined with several other Republican attorneys general in arguing that the law is unconstitutional, now that Congress has eliminated a tax penalty for most people who don't carry insurance. That case is currently making its way through the court system. President Donald Trump has voiced support for the suit, which is seen as a way to upend the federal health care law passed under his predecessor.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat also up for re-election, is backing a separate bill that also would lay out protections if Obamacare ends. House Bill 237 is sponsored by Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine.

Edwards has repeatedly slammed Landry for his involvement in the health care lawsuit, which the governor says threatens coverage for thousands of Louisiana residents with pre-existing conditions if legislation isn't passed. 

“It’s ironic that the Attorney General wants to try and take credit for fixing a problem that he himself caused by involving the state in a lawsuit that eliminates protections for people with pre-existing conditions, without having a plan in place or consulting with anyone before doing so," Edwards said in a statement. "Let’s be clear: Jeff Landry endangered the health coverage of almost 850,000 people in Louisiana with pre-existing conditions because he was more concerned with politics than with real people."

Landry said the bill he's backing is one piece of the effort that would be needed if Obamacare falls.

"Our goal is to have a robust market of affordable insurance options," he said. 

House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, is backing Landry's proposal. Barras said it would cover the state if a court decision comes down while the Legislature isn't in session.

"This legislation, I think, sets the framework we need going forward," he said.

Senate Bill 173 is sponsored by Senate Health and Welfare Chair Fred Mills, R-Parks.

"We're all one catastrophic illness away from going bankrupt," Mills said. "We wanted to make sure there was not a gap in coverage."

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.