For decades Louisiana’s two United States senators have been paid generous government salaries and enjoyed quality health care at subsidized rates. Now they receive $174,000 per year to represent one of the poorest states in the Union, and they have the best health care money can buy.
Both men campaigned for the U.S. Senate by pledging to take government-backed health care away from working people and the poor. Now that their party controls the Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court, they are within striking distance of achieving their goal.
As Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy consider how they will vote on the Republicans’ “American Healthcare Act,” the most important thing I can tell them is this: “The bill is very dangerous to the people of Louisiana, and not just those on Medicaid. You have the power, and the responsibility, to stop it.”
The 2010 Affordable Care Act lowered the number of uninsured Louisiana residents from 22 percent in 2013 to 12.5 percent last year. Left intact, the ACA is expected to make it possible for 540,000 Louisianans to get health care through Medicaid by 2020. This group includes those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level – too little to afford private insurance, but too much to be eligible for Medicaid prior to the ACA.
Furthermore, those planned spending cuts are paired to a tax cut on annual incomes greater than $250,000. This would effectively transfer $275 billion over the next decade from public-health spending to the richest 1 or 2 percent of households.
The bill would also cut ACA-financed tax credits for private health insurance by $3,013 per year on average. This is predicted to make private health insurance unaffordable for 111,000 Louisiana residents benefitting from the tax credits.
Medicaid expansion has improved financial security for struggling families and provided thousands of Louisiana children with long-term benefits. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Medicaid in Louisiana has annually met health-care needs for 43,200 newborns, 117,100 seniors and 237,300 individuals with disabilities.
Supporters of Medicaid expansion say that we are bringing home tax dollars paid by Louisiana residents to the federal government. They also point to an estimated 14,000 new jobs in health care.
Given that these social and economic gains would be lost if the Republican bill becomes law, it’s no wonder that the LSU Public Policy Research Lab recently found that three-quarters of Louisiana residents approve of the Medicaid expansion – including 51 percent of Republicans.
It also explains why Mr. Cassidy faced constituents chanting “Vote no!” when he held a town-hall meeting in Baton Rouge last month. Mr. Kennedy’s office said he has no town meetings scheduled.
The Bible quotes Jesus calling the poor “the least of these,” and it’s not hard to see them amongst us in Louisiana. The United Way published a comprehensive study on the working poor in Louisiana in 2014. It concluded that 42 percent of households in the state could not afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food and transportation.
Like Mr. Cassidy and Mr. Kennedy, I have long collected a government check for my work in public service. I, too, have participated in state-subsidized health care.
It has been an honor to serve the people. That is one reason I consider it my obligation to ensure that Louisiana takes care of the least of its citizens. I’ve fought greedy payday loan operators, major oil companies unwilling to own up to coastal erosion, telephone firms gouging inmate families, and telecom companies denying telephones and internet service to rural communities.
These private interests all have lobbyists. Working people and the poor have no lobbyists. They will suffer when this bill is passed while the lobbyists for the Republican Party claim victory, disregarding the real human cost of their actions.
Mr. Cassidy, Mr. Kennedy and I share another thing in common. Our government offices get the same types of constituent calls. We hear regularly from cash-strapped consumers trying to pay their bills, keep the lights on, buy their prescriptions and afford their insurance premiums. Many must choose daily between paying a mortgage, a car note, an electric bill and a doctor bill.
The new healthcare bill will make those choices harder, not easier. I hope our senators do the right thing and vote ‘No.’
P.S. Our senators could dramatically improve health care in America by authorizing Medicare and Medicaid to seek competitive pricing for drugs. Pharmaceutical companies have contributed millions of dollars to members of Congress, including Sens. Cassidy and Kennedy, to prevent this from happening.
Public Service Commissioner