Louisiana lawmakers to debate state-level health protections
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s governor and attorney general are pushing competing proposals they say will help protect people with pre-existing health conditions if the federal health care law is overturned because of a lawsuit supported by the attorney general.
Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry on Monday outlined the broad parameters of the legislation he’s backing, a proposal that will give Louisiana’s insurance commissioner significant sway over the rules.
“Our goal is to have a robust market of affordable insurance policies and choices for the people of Louisiana which cover essential benefits and guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions,” Landry said, flanked by Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras and Republican Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Mills, the bill sponsor.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said Landry is seeking a remedy for a problem he’s helping to create by joining Louisiana in a Texas federal lawsuit trying to invalidate the entire federal Affordable Care Act.
“It’s ironic that the attorney general wants to try and take credit for fixing a problem that he himself caused by involving the state in a lawsuit that eliminates protections for people with pre-existing conditions, without having a plan in place or consulting with anyone before doing so,” Edwards said in a statement.
Landry said the federal law is unconstitutional, and states should develop their own local solutions to maintain a competitive and fair insurance marketplace. Edwards said Landry is threatening the health coverage of an estimated 850,000 people in Louisiana with pre-existing conditions for political reasons.
Lawmakers will debate the proposals from the two political foes in the legislative session that starts April 8.
Mills’ legislation , supported by Landry, would prohibit denial of insurance for pre-existing conditions and ban lifetime and annual limits on the dollar value of “essential” health insurance benefits. Louisiana’s insurance commissioner would help determine what’s considered an essential benefit with guidelines provided in the bill, and the commissioner’s definition would have to be “substantially similar” to regulations used for health plans under the federal law.
It’s unclear if the state insurance department would start running a health insurance exchange for people to shop for coverage if they don’t get insurance through their jobs or a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid. It’s also unclear how the state would treat the federal subsidies that have helped finance the insurance coverage that would be disappearing.
Landry said the proposal, which is supported by GOP Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, was a framework that would get more specific as lawmakers work on the bill.
The Edwards-backed measure is sponsored by Rep. Chad Brown, a Democrat from Plaquemine. It contains similar features to Mills’ proposal, though with less broad latitude for the insurance commissioner to work out some of the details.
A Texas federal judge ruled in December that the federal health care law was unconstitutional, but the ruling hasn’t taken effect during the appeals process.
Neither measure backed by Edwards or Landry addresses what would happen to the 500,000 Medicaid patients in Louisiana enrolled through the expansion program authorized under the federal health care law if that program is jettisoned.
Senate Bill 173 and House Bill 237: www.legis.la.gov
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