Bill to force Medicaid expansion comes up short on votes - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Bill to force Medicaid expansion comes up short on votes

Updated:
Dozens packed the committee room at the State Capitol to hear the debate. Dozens packed the committee room at the State Capitol to hear the debate.

Baton Rouge, La. — Some state lawmakers are trying to force the state to accept federal health care reform dollars and expand the Medicaid program, which provides health insurance for the state's poor. But one bill aimed at that goal failed to get enough votes Wednesday at the State Capitol.

The House Health and Welfare Committee debated HB 110, which requires the state to expand its Medicaid program to make more of the state's uninsured eligible for Medicaid. It failed on an 11 to 8 vote after hours of feisty debate.

Governor Bobby Jindal has refused to expand the Medicaid program. Jindal has said it could saddle the state with millions and millions of extra costs.

But those who spoke in favor of HB 110 said the state has nothing to lose, and its uninsured citizens have a lot to gain. They said many of the working poor would be afforded health insurance if Medicaid's eligibility standards are expanded in Louisiana.

Representative Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said there is a lot of impetus for the state to comply with the reforms, given that the federal government is picking up much of the tab -- at least at the beginning.

"Louisiana is covered at 100 percent for the first three years… at any time that we feel that it's not beneficial for this state, we can opt out," Jackson stated.

Pineville resident Angeline Iles said her brother's lack of health insurance while dealing with life-threatening illnesses ravaged her own finances.

"Getting in debt with my house note, I was without water, running water in my home for over 12 days because the decision was, do you buy his heart medication or do you keep the water on?" she told lawmakers.

A representative of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke in favor of the legislation requiring an expansion in the state's Medicaid eligibility.

"Those who face social economic challenges, the bishops would naturally have to advocate for acceptance of that expansion," said Robert Tasman, associate director of the conference. However, he said the federal health care reform law lacks perfection.

Some on the legislative panel said they were torn over the issue and lacked enough information to support the bill at this time.

"I'm not saying I'm going to support this one, but I will support something that I think is good. But I don't think anybody in this room, in this country can tell me what's in the Affordable Care Act," said Representative Kenneth Havard, R-Jackson.

The Jindal administration continues to stand its ground, saying there are too many uncertainties when it comes to health care reform and the impact on the state's bottom line.

"That is based on high, what we believe are high risks of the unknowns in the Medicaid expansion," said Kathy Kliebert, interim secretary of the La. Department of Health and Hospitals.

And in the end, uncertainty among House committee members led to the vote being defeated,

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, said she remains optimistic. There are similar pieces of legislation still up for consideration in the legislature.

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