Another state expands Medicaid
While Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal releases dubious concept papers and op-ed polemics on health care, his counterpart in Indiana has been busy negotiating a way to get health coverage for low-income adults. And last week it appears Gov. Mike Pence succeeded. Between 334,000 and 598,000 low-income uninsured Hoosiers could soon have health coverage under a plan to expand Medicaid in Indiana. The state’s waiver from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services allows low-income residents to access private health coverage through the state’s Healthy Indiana Plan, and will require most recipients to pay some combination of co-pays and monthly premiums on a sliding scale. Enrollment will begin in 2015, provided the waiver receives final approval.
There is no such luck for uninsured adults in Louisiana, where the administration remains firmly opposed to extending Medicaid coverage to those making below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. The evidence is clear that expanding coverage would not only improve public health but provide a shot in the arm for Louisiana’s economy — bringing in $16 billion and an estimated 15,600 jobs over a decade. A series of new fact sheets developed by LBP breaks down how this economic growth would affect every area of the state. And the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports on new data that shows the costs to states of expanding Medicaid are even lower than previously thought.
Legislative session enters final two weeks
As the 2014 Legislature enters its home stretch, The Advocate’s Mark Ballard writes that this year has been the session of “no.” Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed 20 of the 1,968 bills filed by legislators, with measures ranging from reining in the costs of the TOPS scholarship program to reining in predatory payday lending being rejected. Lawmakers also voted to kills bills that would have raised the state’s minimum wage, protected gays and lesbians from discrimination, and expanded Medicaid to provide 400,000 Louisianans with better health care coverage. There is still much work to be done, including work on several priorities for the largely absent governor. Efforts to derail Common Core and to undermine lawsuits filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East continue. Legislators must also pass the $25 billion state budget, agree to a formula for K-12 public school spending, and decide whether to provide cost-of-living adjustments for roughly 100,000 state retirees. Lawmakers and their staff are preparing to work on Memorial Day and nonstop through June 2 in order to finish everything before the session ends.
Louisiana’s budget relies heavily on federal dollars
As negotiations continue on the $25 billion state budget, which must be approved before lawmakers adjourn on June 2, Gannett’s Mike Hasten looks at a new study by the Tax Foundation which found that Louisiana is more reliant on federal dollars than all but one other state.
“The leading factor in this phenomenon is poverty, researchers and state officials said. The higher the poverty level, the more federal funds come in to provide health care, food stamps and other family services. U.S. Census figures show 19.9 percent of the state’s population lived under the poverty level in 2012, third worst behind Mississippi’s 24.2 percent and New Mexico’s 20.8 percent.”
Another factor: Louisiana’s overall tax burden is among the lowest in the country, and revenues have remained flat in recent years thanks in large part to a proliferation of special-interest tax breaks. When state revenues are low, it makes the federal share look larger by comparison.
Efforts to rein in TOPS spending stall (again)
History repeated itself last week when legislators voted against reining in the quickly growing costs of the TOPS scholarship program, which pays full in-state tuition to any Louisiana high school graduate that finishes with at least a 2.5 grade-point average and scores at or above the state average on the ACT. The Associated Press’ Melinda Deslatte writes that the costs of TOPS is expected to costs $250 million during the state’s next fiscal year (July 1, 2014) — exceeding the combined costs of running the state’s Attorney General’s Office, services for veterans, the insurance regulatory agency and the Agriculture Department. The scholarship program will costs taxpayers $387 million by 2019. While Louisiana isn’t the only state that offers a merit-based scholarship program, other states either cap tuition awards or have higher eligibility standards. Gov. Jindal opposes any effort to change the state’s TOPS program.
New law gives Louisiana more room to borrow under debt cap
Conservative lawmakers intending to increase certainty in Louisiana’s annual operating budget and put more limits on state spending unintentionally (and ironically) raised the state’s debt cap. As The Associated Press writes, “A proposal pushed into law last year by fiscal conservatives in the House of Representatives requires the state’s income forecasting panel, the Revenue Estimating Conference, to estimate how much money is available for spending in a long list of set-aside funds that it didn’t previously forecast. Meanwhile, Louisiana’s debt ceiling, enacted in the early 1990s, requires that the state’s annual debt-repayment requirements fall under 6 percent of the annual Revenue Estimating Conference forecast. Since more money was swept into the forecast, that’s 6 percent of a much larger pool of money, according to an opinion issued this week by the attorney general’s office. And that means the state now has much more room to borrow under the ceiling.”