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House committee kills Medicaid expansion measure

BATON ROUGE — Rep. Andy Anders says a measure to cover more uninsured people in the state’s Medicaid program was shot down too early when it was rejected Wednesday by lawmakers in a House committee.

After five hours of debate, the House Health and Welfare Committee voted along party lines, 11-8, to defeat the measure and support the stance of Gov. Bobby Jindal. Republicans opposed the Medicaid expansion and Democrats supported it.

Anders (D-Vidalia) said the measure could have greatly benefited rural areas of the state like Concordia Parish.

“Basically, my stand was with my district being somewhat poor and many of my constituents being on Medicaid, I need to vote yes on this thing,” Anders said. “I think there were a lot of questions left unanswered, but it was ultimately defeated, obviously.”

In 2009 and 2010, 41 percent of the Concordia Parish population was enrolled in Medicaid, according to a report by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

But Wednesday’s vote wasn’t expected to be the legislature’s final word on the Medicaid expansion, as Anders said the Senate’s health committee planed to take a vote on the idea soon.

“I think there are other opportunities still left to come out of the senate, so it’s not completely over,” Anders said. “We’re going to continue to work on it, because this is something that could help my district and other districts in the state.”

The health care law pushed by President Obama allows the expansion to cover adults making up to 138 percent of the poverty level — less than $32,000 for a family of four. The federal government will pick up most of the cost.

Expansion opponents say it would still be too costly for the state and would expand an inefficient and outdated Medicaid program.

Supporters say Louisiana could save money with the expansion while also offering thousands of working adults access to health insurance in a state where one in five residents are uninsured.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office estimates the Medicaid expansion could save Louisiana as much as $510 million in the next 10 years, with the state receiving up to $15 billion in federal funding the cover approximately 500,000 people through Medicaid.

Anders said while Medicaid expansion affects a majority of the state, he also feels that the topic, along with others, is taking up a majority of the legislature’s time.

“So much has been centered around Medicaid expansion and other things that your chances of succeeding with other bills are very slim,” Anders said. “It’s already a short session, so if you’re not getting your bills heard within the next two and a half weeks, the chances are slim they will ever succeed.”

The legislative session ends June 6.