The monumental David Vitter loss in Louisiana Saturday promises to be a big win for Louisiana. While it was Vitter's past scandals that dominated the election, it's Democratic Governor-elect John Bel Edwards' main policy promise that's the big news, and likely means health care for some 242,000 Louisiana residents in the coming year.
"The expansion of health care coverage for working families is among the highest priorities. It's something I've been working on for three years, and I never once during this campaign shied away from that particular issue," Edwards said during a news conference with reporters in New Orleans. "So we are going to expand the Medicaid program in Louisiana. We're going to do it as soon as we possibly can and as responsibly as we possibly can."
The strongest signal yet of Edwards' commitment to Medicaid expansion is his appointment of state Sen. Ben Nevers to be his chief of staff. Nevers has been one of the foremost advocates of Medicaid expansion in the Legislature, at times offering tearful testimony as he pleaded with colleagues to expand the federal program to cover people who aren't paid enough to purchase their own insurance.
Asked about the significance of Medicaid expansion to the working poor, Nevers said, "it means life or death to many people across this state."
All that Louisiana needs for Medicaid expansion is the governor’s signature. State lawmakers have already adopted a financing plan for 2017 and beyond, when the federal governments stops paying 100 percent of the expansion. The match rate falls to 95 percent in 2017, 94 percent in 2018, 93 percent in 2019, and then 90 percent in 2020 and beyond. The plan worked out by the legislature has be accepted by April 1, 2016 or it expires.
Edwards told reporters Sunday that "a difference of opinion" on how the Medicaid financing bill was drafted and passed might prevent him from signing an executive order expanding Medicaid on "day one," but it will happen and it will happen before the April 1 expiration date.