Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Legislative session reaches midway point, fight over budget remains; Affordable Care Act Marketplace sign-ups top 8 million; Conservative columnist pushes Medicaid myths; and Effort to reform payday lending continues. $968 million — the amount of “one-time” state dollars used to pay for recurring expenses in the governor’s FY15 budget that are not expected to materialize in FY16 (Source: Associated Press)

Legislative session reaches midway point, fight over budget remains
Halfway through the legislative session — which must end by June 2 — a handful of non-controversial bills appear headed for the governor’s desk, while more ambitious reforms struggle and the battle over the state’s annual budget has barely revved up, reports Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press. While bills to limit minors’ access to tanning beds and electronic cigarettes have faced little resistance, pushes to raise the state’s minimum wage were swiftly killed in committee and efforts to reform payday lending have faced fierce opposition.

The most consequential debate is yet to come over Louisiana’s annual $25 billion spending plan. Legislative budget analysts have identified nearly $1 billion revenues in the governor’s executive budget that won’t be available next year, which is sure to set up a fight between the administration and more conservative members of the legislature who have heavily criticized the use of “one-time money” in the past. But without the ability to address revenues in this year’s session due to constitutional restrictions, the legislature’s options for restructuring the budget without making devastating cuts to critical services appear limited.

Affordable Care Act Marketplace sign-ups top 8 million
In the latest blow to critics of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama announced last week that 8 million Americans bought private health insurance plans through the marketplaces established by the new law, according to the Times-Picayune. Despite major technical problems with the website in October and most of November, the 8 million figure actually surpassed the original enrollment estimate of 7 million. State-by-state numbers are likely later this week.

However, workers with income below the poverty line are not eligible for tax credits to help buy insurance. This group was supposed to be enrolled in expanded Medicaid coverage, but Gov. Bobby Jindal’s rejection of the policy has left more than 200,000 Louisianans in “the gap.” One way to get around the governor’s opposition is to put the issue to the voters, as Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, has proposed and the Times-Picayune editorial board endorsed:

“It would’ve been easier if Gov. Jindal had accepted the federal government’s offer — as other Republican governors did — to pay 100 percent of the cost of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years and no less than 90 percent after that. It would’ve been better if lawmakers had been brave enough last spring to override the governor’s rejection of the money.

“But they didn’t.

“So they should give Louisiana residents a chance to take care of this matter themselves.

“The $16 billion in federal money “belongs to the people of Louisiana,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said last week. And refusing to accept it, she said, is putting pressure not only on individual families and the state health care budget but on higher education as well.”

Conservative columnist pushes Medicaid myths
The Advocate’s conservative columnist Quin Hillyer gave readers on Sunday an exhaustive defense of Gov. Jindal’s decision to reject billions in federal dollars that are available to expand access to health care for uninsured, working adults.

Citing the administration’s estimate that Medicaid expansion would cost the state $1.7 billion over 10 years, Hillyer fails to mention that the same study found it could save taxpayers as much as $368 million. And even if there were a modest state cost, Louisiana would get an estimated $16 billion in federal funds over the next decade to help expand access to preventive health services for as many as 400,000 Louisianans, while making sure that our state’s hospitals were financially sustainable. Expansion would also create an estimated 15,600 jobs across the state, helping local businesses.

And despite Hillyer and other expansion opponents’ contention that gaining coverage does not improve health outcomes, the evidence is clear that expanding Medicaid will improve access to care and save lives, making the policy a no-brainer for a staunchly pro-life state like Louisiana.

Effort to reform payday lending continues
The Advocate’s editorial board endorsed an effort to limit the number of payday loans that consumers can take out in a single year. Senate Bill 84 by Sen. Ben Nevers — which originally aimed to institute a 36 percent APR rate cap, far above what is already allowed for most credit cards — was amended earlier this month to a 10-a-year loan cap, turning it into a compromise bill that catered to the wishes of the industry. Going a step further, the Advocate is pushing for a 6-loan cap, in line with restrictions that apply to credit unions and other Louisiana banks. Payday lenders have been exempt for Louisiana’s usury laws for decades, including an exemption from the state’s criminal loansharking law, which makes loans with APRs above 45 percent a felony, as a Shreveport Times editorial over the weekend endorsing reform also noted.

And in a letter to the editor in the Advocate, Loyola University theologian Alex Mikulich notes that as the Legislature moves to make the Holy Bible the official state book of Louisiana, legislators should heed the Good Book’s message against usury and taking advantage of the poor. Nevers’ bill is expected to be heard by the Senate Finance Committee this week.

$968 million — the amount of “one-time” state dollars used to pay for recurring expenses in the governor’s FY15 budget that are not expected to materialize in FY16 (Source: Associated Press)