Analysis: Health care bill boxed in Louisiana’s governor
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Legislation promoted as a path to creating state-level health care protections for Louisiana residents if the federal health law is overturned put Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in a no-win political situation.
If he vetoed the bill championed by Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, Edwards would be scrapping the only measure that reached his desk to respond to the pending federal litigation threatening the Affordable Care Act. Edwards also would be giving Landry a new way to trash-talk him and accuse him of petty politics in an election year when both the governor and attorney general are on the ballot.
If he signed the bill, Edwards would be handing Landry the ability to claim victory on an issue about which the governor wants to appear proactive. That victory would come after Landry signed Louisiana onto the lawsuit seeking to jettison the federal health overhaul, the court challenge prompting the need for a state-level fix. Plus, Edwards would be signing legislation he described as a “fig leaf” that doesn’t fix anything.
But the governor has taken the position that he always signs or vetoes bills, never allowing them to become law without his signature.
So Edwards signed the Landry-backed bill into law, burying it in a list of bill signings released on a Friday evening — and now he’ll try to work around it, creating a task force to study additional responses to the litigation.
Whether the law, sponsored by Republican Sen. Fred Mills of St. Martin Parish, has any real impact remains to be seen. And it may never be needed, if the federal lawsuit winding its way through the courts isn’t successful.
The law starts Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon’s office working on ways to create a high-risk pool to help Louisiana residents with preexisting conditions access insurance if the federal law is thrown out. But such a creation requires more legislative approvals and doesn’t yet have financing to pay for any plan developed.
Under the law championed by former President Barack Obama, the federal government gives Louisiana consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to help pay for the insurance coverage and preexisting condition protections.
Landry and Donelon say they’re hopeful Congress would help states with financing if those federal subsidies disappear. Edwards notes such promises from Washington haven’t been made.
Meanwhile, the Landry-backed law also wouldn’t help the 460,000 people added to Medicaid who would lose coverage if the Medicaid expansion program authorized under the federal law is scrapped.
The legislation became the latest dust-up between Edwards and Landry, who never shy away from a clash with each other. House Republicans allied with Landry ensured a separate Edwards-backed bill seeking to enact state-level health insurance protections was killed. It, too, had no financing source.
Landry said Edwards’ signing of his bill, which passed with near-unanimous support from lawmakers, was a “historic day.”
“Louisiana has now become the country’s leader in protecting patients with preexisting conditions,” Landry said in a statement.
Edwards had a different take.
“Studying a high-risk pool is not a replacement for the Affordable Care Act,” he said before he made his signing decision. “There is no way that that is a replacement of anything. It is at best a fig leaf designed to prevent embarrassment.”
His spokeswoman Christina Stephens said the governor later signed the bill because it “doesn’t do any harm.”
The Democratic Governors Association didn’t do Edwards any favors in the effort to draw little attention — or compliments — to the bill, however, when it released a Twitter post Tuesday praising Edwards for signing “legislation to protect health insurance coverage for Louisianians if the Affordable Care Act is overturned.”
The organization, supporting Edwards in his bid for a second term, seemed clueless that it was praising a Republican-led effort that the governor tried to kill.
Republicans, including Landry, seized on the tweet, using it as another round of publicity for the legislation’s passage and calling it outrageous Democrats would try to take credit for something Edwards didn’t support.
The Edwards-created task force to study state-level response options if the federal health law is overturned holds its first meeting July 17.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte