House, Senate committees kill legislation to expand Medicaid

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Despite how lawmakers voted, one politician says he will continue to fight to bring healthcare to the uninsured.

For the third straight year, Medicaid expansion efforts died at the hands of the legislature.

Supporters say if lawmakers continue to avoid expansion it is going to mean more closures of local hospitals and watching billions of Louisiana's federal taxpayer dollars get spread around the country but not in Louisiana.

Defeated for the moment, Rep. John Bel Edwards reacted Wednesday to his failed measure to expand Louisiana's Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

"We're going to expand the Medicaid program. We're going to do it in a year or two," said Rep. Edwards, D-Amite.

Rep. Edwards is running to be Louisiana's next governor. The man he wants to succeed is opposed to the expansion as is Rep. Lance Harris, a self-described, "free market conservative."

"We already obligate ourselves so much to the federal government. When it comes to education and some other things, our local autonomy is gone," said Rep. Harris, R-Alexandria.

"We're obligated to the people of Louisiana who pay taxes to the federal government," responded Rep. Edwards.

Edwards says accepting federal dollars will bring coverage to 290,000 men and women. He says turning away Obamacare dollars would be wasting as much as $18 billion of taxpayer money over the next decade.

Right now, those taxes go to Washington, D.C. and are then distributed to the 30 states that have accepted the Medicaid expansion.

"People we're paying the dime. We're just not accepting the healthcare," said Rep. Edwards.

Edwards was joined by state health officials who agreed with him that expansion is the fiscal and moral right move.

"We will be able to cover people and that's good. We will get more federal money in this state and that's good also," said David Hood, former DHH secretary.

Federal funds today would pay all expansion costs. That amount would drop to 90 percent in later years.

However, opponents say it's not the best path toward fixing the state's financial troubles.

"Do you know what the federal debt is at the end of this year? $22 trillion," said Rep. Richard Burford, R-Stonewall.

"And it won't be less if we reject the Medicaid expansion," replied Rep. Edwards.

If expansion ever is accepted, supporters say it will bring to the state 15,000 jobs and an immediate impact of $52 million.

"Make no mistake, if we don't expand Medicaid in this state, it means life or death to some people," said Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa.

Sen. Nevers had his own measure Wednesday for Medicaid expansion, but it failed to pass a Senate committee room.

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