Eddie Rispone (left) and Ralph Abraham (right)

Eddie Rispone (left) and Ralph Abraham (right)

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards loves to talk about Medicaid expansion — specifically about the more than 500,000 Louisianans who now receive coverage, at mostly federal rather than state expense, since he signed an executive order to adopt this part of the Affordable Care Act in 2016.

Edwards’ Republican challengers in this fall’s election like to talk about Medicaid too, but in a broader sense. They tend to focus on the huge and growing slice of the state budget that goes towards all Medicaid expenses, and zero in on a legislative audit suggesting that some $85 million may have been misspent. The state now has a new system aimed at making sure all enrollees are eligible.

A big uncertainty, though, has been whether either U.S. Ralph Abraham or businessman Eddie Rispone would go so far as to reverse Edwards’ order.

The answer started to come into focus this week at an event in Baton Rouge staged by the Republican Governors Association and hosted by the local chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.

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Abraham, who is a physician, said he would not reject Medicaid expansion, but would rather seek to reduce the enrollment in other ways such as tighter oversight and expansion of other options.

“I want the voters to understand nobody’s going to get kicked off the rolls. But are we going to make this program better for the taxpayer and those that need the program? Absolutely, and that’s just good common sense,” he said.

Rispone’s response was both more vague and more potentially disruptive. He said he’d try to “freeze” the program to stop adding new people and embark on a deep evaluation. What that would mean for patients who qualify, and how long they’d have to wait, are two obvious questions this proposal raises.

Expect many more questions as the two Republicans try to chip away at something Edwards, and quite a few of his backers, consider one of his most significant successes.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.