- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A national tea party group organizing in Louisiana is asking lawmakers to pledge their opposition to Democrats’ efforts to expand the state Medicaid program under President Barack Obama’s health law.

Americans for Prosperity is sending the pledge request to all 144 state lawmakers this week, hoping to shore up opposition to Medicaid expansion bills before the legislative session that begins in March, said Phillip Joffrion, director of the AFP state chapter.

“We want our legislators to tell their constituents that they’re going to go to Baton Rouge on March 10 and fight Medicaid expansion and the furthering of Obamacare in Louisiana,” Joffrion said Thursday.

The organization, a conservative group founded with the support of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, also plans events across seven Louisiana cities starting next week to outline its opposition to the expansion of the government-subsidized health insurance program.

The Legislature rejected an expansion of Louisiana’s Medicaid program last year, but Democratic lawmakers say they will again file legislation to renew the debate.

Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, said he will propose a constitutional amendment that would let the public decide if they want the expansion. That type of legislation would be able to bypass the veto pen of Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican and possible 2016 presidential candidate who strongly opposes the federal health care law.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat in a tough fight for re-election in November, is pushing the Medicaid expansion, saying Jindal opposed the proposal to bolster a presidential run. Landrieu’s office has launched a petition for people to sign urging Jindal and the Legislature to expand the government insurance program.

“This is not about the president. It’s about the people of our state who have some of the worst health care outcomes in the nation because of nonexistent or poor access to quality care,” Landrieu said in a recent statement.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion say it would improve health care for up to 300,000 working poor in Louisiana, with the federal government paying most of the cost, while also providing an influx of dollars for health care providers.

On Thursday, expansion backers seized on a recent report from Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. that estimates Louisiana businesses could face tax penalties ranging from $41 million to $62 million annually if the state refuses to expand its Medicaid program.

The report references a penalty included in the federal health overhaul that hits larger businesses if their workers aren’t able to get insurance coverage through their employer. They don’t have to pay the penalty, which is a maximum of $3,000 per worker, if their employees get Medicaid through the expansion.

The expansion would cover adults making up to 138 percent of the poverty level - less than $32,000 for a family of four. The federal government would cover the full cost through 2016 and then on a sliding scale, dropping to 90 percent by 2020 and thereafter.

Opponents say the expansion is too costly for the state and would add people to a government program that doesn’t provide adequate care. The Jindal administration says Louisiana’s uninsured will be better served through privatization deals for the state’s public hospital system and through networks of local health clinics.

“Why do we want to put more people into a failed system and further burden the state budget?” Joffrion said.

He said fighting Medicaid expansion efforts will be AFP’s top priority during Louisiana’s legislative session.

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