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Shreveport Times - COLUMN: Jindal's Medicaid stance hurting La.

Op-Ed

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by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu

When Gov. Jan Brewer announced Arizona's Medicaid expansion, she explained that her state "can leverage nearly $8 billion in federal funds over four years, save or protect thousands of quality jobs and protect our critical rural and safety net hospitals."

Gov. Rick Scott said of his state's expansion, "The federal health department has committed to working with us to ensure we have all the flexibilities we need to make Medicaid best meet the needs of Floridians."

Govs. Brewer and Scott are part of the growing chorus of Republican governors who understand that expanding Medicaid by accepting 100 percent of federal funds for three years and no less than 90 percent thereafter is a smart economic move for their states. Despite their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, these governors understand that the time for political posturing is over.

Unfortunately, Gov. Jindal's posturing has continued, as he stubbornly and falsely argues that a Medicaid expansion would be too expensive and not flexible enough for Louisiana. Mounting evidence from multiple, independent sources shows otherwise.

Currently, when people without insurance go to the hospital and cannot pay, the state and the hospital pick up the cost, passing it on to people with private insurance for an estimated cost of $1,000 per family each year.

Expanding access to basic health insurance through Medicaid would give up to 400,000 Louisianians, including more than 61,000 in Shreveport, a means of payment. These are mostly working people who simply cannot afford health insurance. Not only does this save hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money from being spent on so-called "uncompensated care," it also boosts the budgets of our state, our hospitals, and the many businesses and suppliers that work with them in urban and rural areas alike.

By all estimates - including a study commissioned by the Jindal Administration - the Medicaid expansion would bring billions of federal dollars into our state's economy. A recent Families USA report estimates the expansion would bring 15,600 new jobs to our state by 2016 and $1.8 billion in additional economic activity for 2016 alone. Figures like these are why governors across the country are saying yes to expanding health coverage for their people.

Gov. Jindal also claims that adequate flexibility has not been granted - nothing could be further from the truth. In Arkansas for example, Governor Mike Beebe worked out an agreement with the federal government to allow his state to use the federal funds to extend private insurance to Medicaid-eligible people. In Florida, Gov. Scott secured a federally approved plan allowing the state to extend its version of Bayou Health to all Medicaid-eligible people.

In fact, the creation of Bayou Health - the Governor's initiative to give Medicaid enrollees the opportunity to select a private plan to oversee their care - required a waiver from the federal government, which he has secured.

Louisiana's Health Secretary, Bruce Greenstein, wrote in a health care journal that Bayou Health is "the most significant transformation of Louisiana's Medicaid program in its more than 40 years of existence." Now that is has been transformed, why can't it be expanded to give more working people a chance for quality health care?

As Gov. Brewer said, "the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land." Whether Louisiana expands Medicaid or not, our citizens will still pay for it, only that money will go to states like Arkansas, Florida and Arizona. Does it make sense for our taxes to go to support health coverage for people in other states?

It is time for Gov. Jindal to put the needs of the people he represents above of his own political posturing. It is the right thing for our people, our health and our economy.

Mary Landrieu represents Louisiana in the U.S. Senate.


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