The politics of TOPS

The politics of TOPS

As Gov. John Bel Edwards prepares to release his doomsday budget on Monday, the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) is once again in the center of the debate over Louisiana’s budget priorities.

Number of the Day

76 - Percent of Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion enrollees who are already working, caring for family members, or in school. (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)

As Gov. John Bel Edwards prepares to release his doomsday budget on Monday, the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) is once again in the center of the debate over Louisiana’s budget priorities. While the college scholarship program has widespread support among the general public and legislators, it is expected to face deep cuts in the governor’s budget plan due to the Legislature’s refusal to sign off on a revenue package. The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace looks at the politics of the state’s most popular program:

The best way for the governor to bring lawmakers to the table may be to convince them they need to engage to save TOPS. But the best way for Edwards’ critics to make him look bad is to paint him as the heavy who doesn’t back paying for the program, and to point to his own introduced budget as evidence. That’s a lot harder to do if you agree to make the problem go away sooner rather than later. We got a taste of this sort of rhetoric last year when state Rep. Cameron Henry, the Appropriations Committee chair and a frequent adversary of Edwards’ on spending, alleged in a video that the governor doesn’t like TOPS. Never mind that Edwards has said repeatedly that the budget he’s mandated to introduce is not the budget he wants to enact.

 

Federal shutdown looms

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a short-term extension of government funding Thursday night, but the prospects of the bill gaining a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate appeared dim amid unified opposition from Democrats. Senate Republicans are trying to attract Democratic votes by attaching a long-term extension of CHIP, but Democrats also are insisting on legal protections for “Dreamers” – people who were brought to the United States illegally as children. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake:

But it’s worth bringing this back to the sentence at the top of this post: That this is about two sides refusing to vote for things they support — and that the American people overwhelmingly support. There isn’t really a controversial piece of this puzzle. A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday showed 73 percent of people support DACA. Members of both parties and the American public overwhelmingly support the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which Republicans added to the bill to try and secure Democratic votes (yet again attempting to use something everyone already says they support extending as leverage). Basically nobody involved wants a government shutdown. And yet, in this political moment in time, that setup has somehow led us to the brink of a shutdown and neither side budging. Yay, democracy!

 

Medicaid and the opioid epidemic (cont …)

State Attorney General Jeff Landry has been making the bizarre claim that Louisiana’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage to working-age adults has exacerbated the opioid epidemic. His claims caught the attention of National Public Radio, which invited Nola.com/The Times-Picayune’s Julie O’Donoghue to correct the record.

And actually, the Louisiana Department of Health can point to data that shows that opioid prescriptions in the state have actually dropped by about 2 percent and the number of opioid pills being prescribed has dropped as well since Medicaid expansion went into effect in July of 2016. Now, Louisiana adopted some new restrictions on opioid prescriptions around the same time that Medicaid expansion came into play, and it may be that because of those new restrictions that we’re seeing fewer opioid pills prescribed and fewer prescriptions. But the data seems to suggest that what Attorney Jeff Landry is implying is not correct (laughter).

 

Work requirements have unintended consequences  Kentucky will be the first state to implement the Trump administration’s plan to impose work requirements for Medicaid recipients.

Ostensibly, the plan is designed to ensure that able-bodied adults who are not working do not receive government assistance, although research has shown that most recipients of Medicaid are already working, in school, or seeking work. But as The New York Times’ Margot Sanger-Katz explains, work requirements may actually cause people who are already working to lose coverage by imposing onerous administrative paperwork.

“These sorts of little barriers are ways in which humans get tripped up all the time when they’re trying to do something that might benefit them.” Anyone who has ever forgotten to pay a bill on time, or struggled to assemble all the necessary forms of identification before heading to the D.M.V., is likely to sympathize with how administrative hurdles can stymie someone. But these may be especially daunting for the poor, who tend to have less stable work schedules and less access to resources that can simplify compliance: reliable transportation, a bank account, internet access.  There is also a lot of research about the Medicaid program, specifically, that shows that sign-ups fall when states make their program more complicated.

 

Number of the Day

76 – Percent of Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion enrollees who are already working, caring for family members, or in school. (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)