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Christy Paulsell, right, and her daughter, P.J. Paulsell, 31, both of Covington, arrive for a town hall meeting with Sen. Bill Cassidy Wednesday, May 31, 2017, at the at the St. Tammany Parish School Board administrative complex in Covington. 'I'm worried they'll end Medicaid expansion,' said Christy Paulsell, who cares for her daughter since the girl was severely injured in a 2005 motorcycle accident. 'I'll be heartbroken if we lose care and not be able to keep her at home.' Most of the questions during the town hall centered around health care. More than 100 people were turned away due to the limited seating capacity.

Medicaid expansion has been a great boon for Louisiana. It has created jobs, strengthened rural hospitals and clinics, saved the state money and, most importantly, saved lives. That’s why I’m so perplexed every time Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, disparages Medicaid expansion, most recently in a guest column for The Advocate.

A recent analysis by LSU economist Jim Richardson found that Medicaid expansion has created more than 19,000 new jobs in Louisiana — mostly well-paying STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs of which Hewitt is so fond. Medicaid expansion has increased the number of physicians, nurses, medical technicians and other health professionals that are employed in Louisiana and bolstered the financial stability of hospitals and clinics across the state. Richardson’s study found that Medicaid expansion has generated $3.5 billion in economic activity, including $1.2 billion in take-home pay for Louisiana workers.

Hewitt writes that “working families foot the bill” for Medicaid expansion, but the reality is that most Medicaid expansion beneficiaries are themselves part of working families. More than two-thirds of expansion enrollees either work themselves or have someone in their household who works — but they don’t receive or cannot afford health insurance through their employer. Before Medicaid expansion they had few, if any, options for getting health coverage, meaning they had to live just one illness or accident away from medical bankruptcy. Now they have access to lifesaving preventive services and treatment including cancer screenings and mental health counseling.

Finally, Medicaid expansion is not to blame for the state’s fiscal woes. Since Gov. John Bel Edwards expanded the health insurance program to include low-income adults in 2016, Louisiana has actually reduced state general fund expenditures on Medicaid, while extending health insurance to nearly a half-million people.

Instead of bemoaning Louisiana’s successful Medicaid expansion, Hewitt should celebrate the financial stability that will come from her colleagues’ decision to renew some of the temporary taxes that were due to expire this month. Speaking of the tax code, there’s one thing Hewitt and I agree on: Louisiana’s sales taxes are far too high. It’s long past time for the Legislature to overhaul the state’s broken tax code to reduce the burden on the least among us and ensure the state can properly fund critical health and education services, including Medicaid.

Jeanie Donovan

Louisiana Budget Project

Baton Rouge