Foster Campbell

Louisiana Public Service Commissioner

BOBBY JINDAL: Seeing Louisiana in his Rear-view Mirror

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It has become obvious to me that Bobby Jindal sees Louisiana in his rear-view mirror. That’s a real shame. Our state has problems in every direction – crumbling roads and bridges, colleges facing cuts and raising tuition, coastal erosion, threatened LSU teaching hospitals and the worst poverty in the United States.
Add to the list a lack of political leadership, a problem that overlays all others. Citizens expect their leaders to face challenges and offer solutions.
By his actions Jindal is jeopardizing Louisiana’s future. Exhibit A is his position on the federal government’s Affordable Care Act and its expansion of Medicaid health-care coverage. Under the act Louisiana would spend an additional $536 million on Medicaid from 2014 through 2019 to draw $8.94 billion in federal funds.
That equates to 6 cents spent by Louisiana for every $1 it gains from the federal government for a very real benefit — health care for up to 500,000 working Louisiana residents who don’t make enough to buy insurance. You don’t have to be an Ivy League graduate to know that’s a good deal. Yet Jindal, pandering to the extreme right, is turning down the money.

Non-partisan observers like David Hood consider Medicaid a good deal. Hood worked with Jindal when Jindal was head of the Department of Health and Hospitals under Gov. Mike Foster. Hood is now a health-care analyst at the Public Affairs Research Council in Baton Rouge.
Hood urged the Legislature to expand Medicaid when he succeeded Jindal as head of DHH. He says “there’s no doubt” the Affordable Care Act expansion of Medicaid is good for Louisiana.

Further undermining the governor’s stance was an analysis published in June in The New York Times. It showed Louisiana benefitting the most among the 50 states from the Medicaid expansion. That is in part due to our high poverty rate, including Delta parishes with the worst poverty in the United States. Jindal’s rejection of Medicaid expansion worsens a looming crisis related to federal plans to reduce “Disproportionate Share Hospital” payments for uninsured care beginning in 2014. To understand how significant this is, consider that Louisiana budgeted $700 million in federal and state dollars on uninsured-care coverage this fiscal year.

The governor’s actions, combined with loss of the uninsured-care dollars, could deprive Louisiana hospitals of funding to care for those without insurance. Hospital leaders say the situation could close some facilities and give others no way to recoup what they spend to treat the uninsured.
Federal health reform cuts dollars that states use to care for uninsured people because more people will get insurance, including Medicaid. The LSU teaching hospitals and small rural hospitals are at risk because they get most of the uninsured-care dollars. This money accounts for nearly half the budget of LSU’s health-care services.

Larger private and community hospitals will no doubt see more uninsured patients at their doors when other facilities stop or limit services, so this bad situation threatens the health-care industry of the entire state. Jindal wants LSU to absorb $317 million of $523 million in cuts announced last month due to a congressional reduction in Louisiana’s federal Medicaid financing rate. LSU officials have said they can’t make such cuts without closing facilities. The Jindal administration doesn’t call for closing LSU facilities but instead “structural changes that create efficiencies.” But a state-run mental hospital in Mandeville must close, and cuts will fall on nursing homes and hospitals caring for Medicaid patients. I believe Bobby Jindal is being hypocritical by refusing Medicaid expansion for working Louisiana residents. He and his family live in a three-story mansion paid for by the state. He eats free, his laundry is free, and he has servants, bodyguards, chauffeurs and free travel. He and his family have access to state-subsidized health care, and yet he refuses to help half a million Louisiana residents who cannot afford it.

The governor is turning his back on these people, just like he did last year when he refused an $80-million federal grant to deliver Internet service to rural schools, hospitals and residents. Bobby Jindal doesn’t refuse all federal aid. He used $3 billion in stimulus money to balance previous state budgets. He shows inconsistency and hypocrisy by rejecting federal help for health care and expanded Internet. Jindal apparently believes his political ambition and pandering to the extreme right are more important than his own people. As governor of the poorest state in the country, he should be the last politician to turn his back on the less fortunate. Bobby Jindal should take his eyes off the rear-view mirror and focus instead on problems front and center in Louisiana.