By Lauren Heffker and Madeline Meyer, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards testified before a House committee Wednesday in support of a bill that would protect 850,000 state residents with pre-existing conditions if the federal Affordable Care Act is repealed.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine, is part of Edwards’ legislative package and would prohibit discrimination against health insurance applicants due to pre-existing problems.
“This is not the political thing to do,” Brown said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Brown also proposed an amendment that would keep his bill from taking effect if the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is completely overturned in court. If the federal act is partially invalidated in a way that strips protections of pre-existing conditions but leaves the subsidies in place, the bill would go into effect.
Without federal funding, protections for pre-existing conditions could lead to millions of dollars in premium increases. If Brown’s bill does not pass or if the subsidies are not there, no protections would be guaranteed.
The committee deferred voting on the bill, which would not have an impact on state revenues or spending.
Edwards said that while the bill is not a perfect substitute for current provisions in federal law, it deserved bipartisan support. “It seeks to protect those portions of the Affordable Care Act that just about everybody believes in,” he said.
He noted that a recent LSU survey that found that 74 percent of state residents support protection for people with pre-existing conditions.
Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, is involved in a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
Landry and other Republicans, including President Trump, have said they also want to protect people with pre-existing conditions. But the Republicans have not offered details of how they would replace Obamacare, and the president recently said he would not make any proposals until after the 2020 election.
Edwards said his expansion of the Medicaid program to 480,000 people earning more than poverty levels also would be jeopardized if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.
Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, is seeking re-election, and he touted his record on Tuesday at a lunch hosted by the Louisiana Press Association at the City Club in Baton Rouge.
He said Louisiana has seen 13 consecutive months of job growth, and the unemployment rate is the lowest in the decade at 3.9 percent.
“We are in a better place now,” he said. “In fact, we solved the state budget crisis,” he added, referring to a deal with Republicans last year that extended 0.45 percent of state sales tax and helped create a budget surplus.
Edwards promoted his proposal for $1,000 pay raises for teachers. And citing the state’s gender wage gap, he said, “It ought to offend everyone that we have the biggest gap.”