BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu heightened her criticism Tuesday of Gov. Bobby Jindal's refusal to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program, accusing the governor of putting his presidential ambitions ahead of his citizens' health needs.
"It's his quest to be the next president and to check off the tea party 'I am the most conservative person in America' check list. If he were to get his mind and his heart on the people that he's representing, we might have better outcomes," Landrieu, a Democrat, said.
The Republican governor, considered a White House contender in 2016, opposes the Medicaid expansion allowed under the federal health care revamp, calling it an inappropriate growth of the federal government health care program.
Estimates are that 400,000 more Louisiana residents could be eligible for Medicaid if the state chose to expand the government-run health insurance program, with the federal government paying most of the costs.
Despite the federal funding, Jindal said the expansion would be too costly for states. He said insurance is better handled by private companies and states should be free to design health programs that suit their individual needs.
"The reality is Medicaid relies on an outdated model that costs taxpayers billions of dollars for poor outcomes. Yet, President Obama and his ally, Sen. Landrieu, would have you believe that a government program is good for economic development. It's a fundamental philosophical difference," Jindal said in a statement.
Landrieu, in a conference call touting the benefits of the expansion for Louisiana, called the governor an obstructionist.
She said his rebuff of the Medicaid money will hurt hospitals, damage the state economy and deprive hundreds of thousands of Louisiana's working poor from having access to better health care.
"In the crisis that the state budget is in, you would think that the governor would be looking for money, not rejecting it," said Landrieu, who is running for re-election next year.
Jindal's top political consultant, Timmy Teepell, said Landrieu's strong words were prompted by the governor's request to President Barack Obama a day earlier that he delay implementation of the health care law.
Jindal was pushing the delay as a way to cut federal government spending as deep automatic budget cuts are set to take effect March 1. Obama rejected the idea.
"The governor went to D.C. and told the President that he should delay Obamacare, so Obama sent his top disciple in Louisiana, Mary Landrieu, to attack Bobby," Teepell said.
The potential Medicaid expansion would cover adults making up to 138 percent of the poverty level — $15,414 for an individual or $30,650 for a family of four, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
The federal government will cover the full costs of the Medicaid expansion from 2014 to 2016 and pick up most of the price tag after that, requiring states to pay up to 10 percent.
Kaiser estimates it would cost Louisiana about $1 billion over 10 years to expand the program to cover the additional low-income residents. The left-leaning Louisiana Budget Project said the state wouldn't have to put up that additional cash, however, calling it a break-even proposition because Louisiana would save a similar amount that it would otherwise spend on uninsured care over the same decade.
Jindal health secretary Bruce Greenstein said his department hasn't done modeling on what money currently spent on health care services for the uninsured could be used to offset the state's costs of a Medicaid expansion.