Political bickering between Louisiana's governor and attorney general over potential fallout from a lawsuit seeking to overturn the federal Affordable Care Act spilled into a House committee Tuesday, with angry exchanges about the value of the federal law and the health care it provides.
Both Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry are working to show they are responding to the possibility the federal health overhaul — and its insurance coverage protections — could be thrown out.
Landry, who joined Louisiana to a Texas lawsuit seeking to jettison the federal law, is pushing legislation to start the work of creating a high-risk pool to help people with preexisting conditions access insurance. The House insurance committee advanced the Senate-approved proposal Tuesday without objection, sending Senate Bill 173 to the full House for debate.
But passage came only after the Edwards administration's chief lawyer, Matthew Block, told lawmakers the legislation does too little. No financing for the high-risk pool is certain, and Block said it doesn't help the 500,000 people added to Medicaid who would lose coverage if the Medicaid expansion program authorized under the federal law is scrapped.
"We have a much bigger population of individuals who would lose coverage," Block said, sitting at the testimony table next to Landry. "We need to have a bigger discussion."
Landry said the bill he supports, sponsored by Republican Sen. Fred Mills, aims to offer protections to people with preexisting conditions who buy their coverage on the individual market, those who don't have government insurance like Medicare and can't get insurance through employers.
"The question today is whether or not we're going to do something to protect the health care in the middle class," Landry said.
The Democratic governor and Republican attorney general have repeatedly clashed since both men took office in 2016. Edwards objected to Landry's support of the Texas lawsuit.
Under the Landry-backed bill, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon would be tasked with working on ways to devise the high-risk pool. It would require more legislative approvals — and financing — to take effect. Donelon sat with Landry at Tuesday's hearing to support the bill, pledging to work with lawmakers, "to be completely transparent and give you our best efforts."
Landry and Donelon said they are hopeful Congress would help states if hundreds of millions of dollars in federal subsidies that flow to Louisiana consumers each year under the health law disappear.
In testy exchanges during the hearing, Democratic lawmakers clashed with Landry, saying he's politicized debate over health care and the state's response to the possible overturning of the law. The attorney general accused the Edwards administration of doing the same thing.
When Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, questioned whether Louisiana would have money to finance the high-risk pool, Landry said Glover was "trying to scare the public." Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine, told Landry: "All I hear is political talk."
The governor on Tuesday announced a task force to offer recommendations about how to respond if the federal law is overturned, saying the idea needs more study and the Landry-backed proposal wouldn't solve the problems created. Landry noted Edwards only established a study after House Republican lawmakers scuttled a separate preexisting conditions bill backed by the governor.