By Mary Landrieu
Last week, leaders in the Legislature shut down any chance to expand access to basic health care for 400,000 Louisiana citizens through Medicaid this year. What a shame.
By saying no to the expansion, they said no to positive economic impacts to Louisiana's economy and health care improvements for many people who desperately need and deserve better care. Louisiana's overall national health ranking is 49th. We rank 46th in diabetes, and despite having lower-than-average incidences of breast cancer, we rank 49th in breast cancer deaths. Why? Because women aren't getting access to preventive services they need.
The Medicaid expansion would have brought $16 billion into Louisiana's economy, resulting in 15,600 new jobs by 2016 and $1.8 billion in additional economic activity for 2016 alone.
In addition to these positive impacts, the expansion would have saved money for the state budget. Even the governor's own estimate from the Department of Health and Hospitals shows savings as high as $367 million over 10 years. At a time when our state is trying every which way to fill deep budget holes, it makes no sense to turn away these savings. But they did.
Now hospitals, doctors, nurses and other providers will miss out on accessing more than $16 billion in federal support for our health care system over 10 years. Our hospitals will lose $8 billion in revenue, and other businesses will pay hundreds of millions more each year to provide health insurance to their employees that would have been covered by the expansion.
Even more distressing is the fact that Louisianians' federal tax dollars will be used to pay for better health care for people in other states. Why are some of our elected officials preventing Louisiana citizens from accessing quality, affordable care we are already paying for? That's a good question.
What is particularly puzzling is the governor's strong and vocal opposition to Medicaid expansion when he supported the same action in 2008. In that year, he released a widely distributed health care plan for Louisiana that included an expansion of Medicaid up to 200 percent of poverty when the current federal proposal is only 133 percent, roughly $31,300 in annual income for a family of four.
It is clear that political agendas and future campaign prospects got in the way.
Although the governor and short-sighted leaders tried their best arguments against expanding Medicaid, the public wisely didn't buy it. A recent survey by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies showed broad support for the expansion that spans age, race and ideology. In Louisiana, more than 62 percent favor the expansion.
The United States is the only country in the developed world that doesn't deliver high quality and affordable health care to the middle class and working poor. Expanding Medicaid is just one of the components of the Affordable Care Act that works toward achieving this goal, along with allowing kids to stay on their parents' policies until they are 26 and prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage because of preexisting conditions.
It is one of many reasons I voted for the Affordable Care Act and am committed to working to ensure it is implemented correctly and achieves the goals of increasing access to care and slowing the growth of the cost of care.
We had a great opportunity to help 400,000 people in Louisiana, many of whom are working 40- to 50 hours per week and raising children. That opportunity has passed, but it is not completely lost.
I will continue to try to convince the governor and the legislature to fashion an expansion that meets Louisiana's needs and works for our people.
If the governor and state legislature want to sit on the sidelines, that's their choice. But I stand ready to work with anyone in our state - citizens, businesses, community leaders and elected officials - to provide quality, affordable health coverage for all of Louisiana.