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Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks during a press conference at the conclusion of the regular legislative session, June 10, at the State Capitol.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards took several punches last week from the Republican legislative majority and likely will take several more this week as GOP lawmakers march toward an unprecedented special session to override his vetoes.

Almost as common as summer rain showers is the annual promise by aggrieved lawmakers vowing to return to Baton Rouge and put a governor in his or her place. It’s never happened before.

Judging from the comments of Senate and House leadership, history may be made. Republicans are angered by Edwards’ refusal to sign into law a bill that restricts transgender youth from participating in public school sports, though that really hasn’t been an issue in Louisiana.

The real possibility of a veto session could be one explanation for why the governor and his forces reminded voters Thursday that Louisiana reached the fifth anniversary of becoming the first and only red state bordering the Gulf of Mexico to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010.

“As I have said many times before, adopting Medicaid expansion was the easiest big decision I have made,” Edwards said on YouTube Thursday. “Especially given the incredible difficulties brought on by the pandemic, I cannot imagine what would have happened to our people had it not been for expansion. It has literally saved lives, jobs, kept our tax dollars at home, significantly lowered the number of uninsured Louisianans and helped keep our rural hospitals open.”

He became governor in January 2016, and as his first act ordered the reversal of Louisiana’s course under a Republican administration that had repeatedly blocked adoption of Obamacare.

As of May, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 638,981 people enrolled under Obamacare’s relaxed standards that allowed the signup of workers who made too much to qualify for the state-federal Medicaid policies but too little to find adequate coverage on the private market. Those additions mean that 40% — 1.87 million of the state’s 4.65 million residents — are covered by Medicaid, which is mostly paid for by the federal government. The state’s share amounts to billions of dollars, one of Louisiana largest expenditures.

Medicaid expansion also meant that Louisiana residents without health care coverage dropped from 22.7% of the population in 2015 to 11.1% today. It’s one of the few statistics Louisiana can boast is better than the national average, 15.6%.

Edwards cited an Urban Institute study that found that if Louisiana had continued to reject Medicaid expansion, the state would have lost out on $15.8 billion in federal Medicaid funding and $8 billion in hospital reimbursements — costs state taxpayers would have footed.

Louisiana’s top Republicans opposed the Affordable Care Act over the past decade. As a congressman, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, voted against the bill, then helped national Republican attempts to replace and undermine the coverage.

“Obamacare sucks, it can’t be fixed,” U.S. John N. Kennedy, of Madisonville, has said. “I would rather drink weed killer than support Obamacare.”

Republicans have a storied history of climbing aboard opposition trains for social programs, but public support for those solutions often derail GOP cabooses.

U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater famously lashed out against Medicare — its 56th anniversary is July 30 — saying: “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink?”

Social Security, reaching its 86th anniversary on Aug. 14, was initially derided by Republicans as “destroying initiative, discouraging thrift, and stifling individual responsibility.”

On June 17, a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court overruled the latest of dozens of GOP efforts to sideline the Affordable Care Act.

Cassidy did tell The Associated Press after the high court decision that Congress lacked enough Republican members to impose its will on the health care plan. Otherwise, both he and Kennedy did not accept invitations last week to update their comments.

Perhaps their reasoning was influenced by poll results that show the American public likes the Affordable Care Act. Only 3% of Americans surveyed by Gallup thought health care was a problem, according to a poll released in May. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in June showed 53% had a favorable view of Obamacare.

National Republicans now are focusing on the 2022 elections with hopes to energize their base — through measures like restricting transgender youth — enough to take control of the U.S. House, the Senate, or both.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.