“Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.” That was not the governor of Louisiana, as John Bel Edwards is hardly known for Churchillian eloquence. The quotation is, in fact, from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1943.
Somehow, even with the distinguished provenance of that wisdom, we suspect that there will still be attacks on the governor in this year’s campaign because of his 2016 decision to expand Medicaid insurance coverage for the working poor.
There has already been sharp criticism coming from several prominent Republicans against Edwards, a Democrat. U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, has recently focused on how the state-federal insurance program for the poor was administered
The state has made advances in how it supervises Medicaid. The governor told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the bottom line was always positive for the state and for the recipients.
“Medicaid expansion was the right thing to do,” he said flatly. Those without insurance cards through Medicaid would defer care and end up in emergency rooms, where treatment is “most costly and least effective,” Edwards added.
The cost to the state general fund is very limited, because under the U.S. Affordable Care Act expansion of insurance for the working poor is 90 percent or more paid by the federal Treasury. Louisiana’s matching funds come from a dedicated hospital fee, Edwards said.
Edwards, a Democrat in a Republican-leaning state, noted in his speech that his administration backed a bill that ultimately failed in the Legislature to mandate work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid recipients.
Still, he added, that doesn’t make the program somehow a boondoggle. “The overwhelming percentage of people in Medicaid expansion do work. If they didn’t, they would qualify for regular Medicaid,” he pointed out.
Beyond the economic plus of having healthier citizens, there is an economic benefit to Medicaid expansion, Edwards said, with $1.8 billion in health care spending supporting 19,000 jobs in hospitals, doctors’ offices and other health care providers.
We supported Edwards’ decision to expand Medicaid. That doesn’t mean that his challengers and critics like Kennedy won’t find some basis for questioning either the expansion or the administration of it by state government.
But like Sir Winston, we want a healthier population, above all. We have always felt that Louisiana would benefit more than many other states because we have a large percentage of our people who work for modest wages and cannot afford health insurance.
That leads, as Edwards points out, to overuse of emergency rooms and deferring treatment by doctors that can avoid more expensive medical conditions later on. Our state should have done this sooner, but Edwards acted quickly on taking office in 2016, and we think it’s a decision that stands the test of experience.