Conventional wisdom says Gov. John Bel Edwards reached the pinnacle and twilight of his political career with his impressive second term win as a tax and spend Democrat in a deeply red state. Where could he go from here?
It’s doubtful Edwards could unseat either of Louisiana’s incumbent Republican U.S. senators. It’s also unlikely he could win a Congressional seat. Most Louisianans are conservative and know the worst thing to do for the movement is to send a Democrat to the House, further empowering the likes of Nancy Pelosi. So, if Edwards impressive political career has ended, why is he still beholden to the state’s most powerful special interests?
"In Louisiana, the two largest contributors to the political process are, No. 1, the trial lawyers, and No. 2, the nursing homes," said former Republican state Sen. Conrad Appel, of Metairie. "The governor is beholden to the nursing homes.”
Edwards proved his continued loyalty to trial lawyers this month when he vetoed tort reform legislation that would have lowered the state’s sky-high auto insurance rates. And the governor continues to carry the water for the nursing home lobby by refusing to divert Medicaid dollars away from the industry and toward home health care.
AARP polling reveals 90% of Louisiana seniors prefer home health care over living in a nursing home. AARP also reports 12,000 state seniors on Medicaid are on a waiting list for home health care. And home health care is cheaper. A Senate bill sponsored by Appel two years ago, diverting more funds from nursing homes to home health care, would have saved taxpayers $100 million.
"If you want a choice on where to live, we feel you should have that choice," said Andrew Muhl, of AARP. "Louisiana is choosing the most expensive form of long-term care, meaning fewer people receive the care they need because of limited dollars.”
Diverting Medicaid money away from nursing homes toward home health care is a no-brainer. But this year, it has become a matter of life and death. Approximately 1,400 nursing home and adult residential facility residents lost their lives to the coronavirus in Louisiana. That’s 45% of all COVID-19 fatalities in the state. Common sense would dictate most of those poor souls would still be alive today if they were cared for at home.
Edwards could fix the problem tomorrow with a stroke of his pen. He has the power, right now, without the legislature, to divert Medicaid money away from nursing homes and toward home health care.
When Edwards first ran for governor in 2015, he promised to divert more Medicaid money to home health care. He also promised he wouldn’t raise taxes, and we know how that worked out.
"In recent years, Louisiana Medicaid spending has ballooned, with little to no accountability and mountains of evidence of fraud and abuse," John Kay, vice president for advocacy at the Pelican Institute told the website The Center Square. "All the while, Louisiana’s elderly Medicaid population continues to wait for the flexibility to choose in-home care instead of being forced into a nursing home."
Edwards’ unflinching fidelity to the nursing home lobby is nothing new. His predecessor, Republican Bobby Jindal, also could have stood up to the nursing home lobby. He didn’t. Neither have governors before him.
“Entrenched special interests have blocked these reforms for too long, and now is the time for Gov. Edwards to make good on his 2015 campaign promise and provide much-needed flexibility to Medicaid patients currently faced with entering a nursing home,” said Kay.
The 1,400-nursing home and long-term facility deaths this year from COVID-19 should be all the motivation the governor needs to stand up to his big-money donors. If Edwards were to muster the courage to do the right thing and do what no politician has done before him, it would dramatically improve the lives of thousands of Louisiana’s seniors. It also would potentially extend many of their lives.
It’s one thing to soak taxpayers to please special interests. It’s much more diabolical to deny seniors home health care just to keep the campaign cash flowing. Especially when you’ve seemingly reached the end of your political career. Edwards’ stubbornness on this issue just doesn’t add up.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org