- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 24, 2019

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Lawmakers trying to enact state-level protections for people with pre-existing health conditions, in case the federal health law is overturned, are running into a problem: how to pay for it.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry are pushing separate bills that would prohibit denial of insurance because of a person’s pre-existing conditions, a provision included in the federal health overhaul.

But under the law championed by former President Barack Obama, the federal government provides hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to Louisiana residents to help pay for the insurance coverage, which could be prohibitively expensive without the assistance.

Financial analyses of the state-level measures sought by Edwards and Landry said with the loss of those subsidies, the Louisiana Department of Insurance estimates the insurance coverage would eventually cost customers with pre-existing conditions $634 million to as much as $834 million a year to maintain by 2024.

Sponsors of the state-level measures sought Wednesday to work around those cost concerns by offering no assurances the protections would ever take effect, if the federal law is overturned.



Rep. Chad Brown, the Democrat carrying Edwards’ favored bill , sought to add language that would nullify the protections of the bill if the federal subsidies are invalidated in federal court. Sen. Fred Mills, the Republican carrying Landry’s favored bill , pushed an add-on provision that would make the protections enforceable only if “adequate appropriations” are available from the federal or state government.

Neither measure got a vote. The proposals are being rescheduled for next week.

Mills, chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, pulled his legislation from consideration after it became clear his committee wouldn’t support it.

Sen. Jay Luneau, an Alexandria Democrat, called the proposal “a pipe dream” because the state couldn’t afford replacing the subsidies that the federal government provides. Sen. Dan Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican, agreed.

“It’s a farce. It’s feel-good legislation to tell folks, ‘We’re going to take care of you if there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,’” Claitor said. “I think it gives people false hope.”

Edwards testified Wednesday in favor of Brown’s bill in the House Insurance Committee, but Committee Chairman Kirk Talbot, a River Ridge Republican, wouldn’t allow a vote, saying he wanted more time to review it.

The bills come after Landry joined Louisiana in a Texas lawsuit trying to invalidate the entire federal Affordable Care Act. Landry says the federal law is unconstitutional, and states should develop their own local solutions to maintain a competitive and fair insurance marketplace. Edwards says Landry is threatening the health coverage of an estimated 850,000 people in Louisiana with pre-existing conditions for political reasons.

Landry said in an interview Wednesday that Mills’ bill was derailed because Democrats wouldn’t support a Republican-led measure. But opposition also came from Claitor, a Republican. Landry said if the Affordable Care Act is thrown out in court, he’s hopeful that Congress “would be a partner with the states” in ensuring protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

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House Bill 237 and Senate Bill 173: www.legis.la.gov

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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