Gov. John Bel Edwards is practically taunting Attorney General Jeff Landry these days, arguing to anyone who’ll listen that a Texas lawsuit seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act’s ban on discrimination against people with pre-existing health conditions — which Landry backed without consulting the governor — would hurt hundreds of thousands of their constituents.
Edwards isn’t wrong. Nor is he alone.
After years of playing defense over former president Barack Obama’s signature law that expanded health coverage for the healthy to help pay the cost of covering those whose care costs more, Democrats like Edwards are enthusiastically embracing the cause. That’s particularly true of the clause in question, which requires insurers to cover pre-existing conditions without charging customers who have them an arm and a leg.
The prospect of losing this protection has emerged as a hot issue ever since Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to overturn the law, with President Donald Trump’s full support, and U.S. Senate Republicans stopped just short of doing the same.
As an alternative to full repeal, the GOP is trying to chip away at the law. The tax bill it passed along party lines got rid of the penalty on those who don’t carry insurance, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton then filed suit arguing that the change invalidates the entire law, including the pre-existing coverage provision. Landry and 18 other state attorneys general signed on as supporters, and the Trump administration took the unusual step of refusing to defend the law. A Texas judge is now deciding the case, which could well be destined for the U.S. Supreme Court.
While the challenge isn’t playing well among Democrats, the politics of it sure are.
In states with competitive congressional elections this fall, protecting pre-existing condition coverage has emerged as a rallying cry. In one instantly viral ad, Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat running against an attorney general who also backs the legal challenge, takes his shotgun and puts a bullet in a printout of the suit. When politicians start running commercials like that, you know things are getting visceral.
Back in Louisiana, Edwards also has Landry, a possible challenger next year but a reliable foil regardless, playing defense. The governor’s team has been heavily publicizing an awkward CNN interview in which Landry admitted he has no Plan B to offer the 849,000 Louisianans who could lose access to affordable coverage should the suit succeed. All he could say was that the Legislature would surely come to the rescue, an idea that House Speaker Taylor Barras quickly endorsed.
That endorsement falls far short of a plan, though, particularly when it comes from a lame duck speaker who just spent the last 2 ½ years struggling to get his members to fund the state’s basic expenses. This Legislature is in no mood now to take on another major fight over how to pay for anything, and surely won’t be as elections loom.
And Landry’s claim that he’s acting as some sort of referee rather than a policy advocate is disingenuous, to say the least.
Landry has always played the ideological crusader. At this point, he’s got a record of picking fights that appeal to his conservative base, then coming up with a legalistic justification to explain it away whenever he’s accused of mean-spiritedness.
Exhibit A was his successful campaign to invalidate an Edwards executive order aimed at preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state hiring and contracting. In challenging the order, Landry argued that the governor reached beyond the authority granted by the Legislature to recognize a new protected class. That doesn’t exactly explain why he chose to take on this particular fight, but then, for longtime Landry watchers, no explanation was really necessary.
On health care, too, Landry chose to get involved, probably without realizing how much the public's mood has shifted.
He’s wrong. And he’s increasingly alone.