Governor transitioning from sessions to policies

by Jeremy Alford, LaPolitics


With three lawmaking sessions of the Legislature behind him, you can expect Gov. John Bel Edwards to start focusing on policies and politics of his own, beginning with the state’s Medicaid expansion.

Edwards triggered the expansion upon being sworn into office and the new program went into effect on July 1. As of last week more than 235,000 people had been enrolled.

“Expanding Medicaid in Louisiana was the easiest decision I’ve made since taking office in January and I meet people from all walks of life who will be positively impacted by expansion,” said Edwards.

Adults who earn up to $16,395 per year and a family of four that brings in $33,534 annually are now eligible for insurance through Medicaid. Services that are covered include doctor and hospital visits; emergency services; laboratory and x-ray services; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance abuse treatment; prescription drugs; and more.

According to the Department of Health, the Medicaid expansion could cover at least 375,000 newly-eligible adults. That would reduce the rate of the uninsured in Louisiana from 13 percent to about 8 percent.

But it’s going to be a long road ahead that will take up a great deal of the governor’s attention. Challenges include ensuring that the funding needed will be there the future, making sure people go to primary care providers rather than hospitals and helping the state’s safety net hospitals transition into this new way of doing things.

On another policy front, top staffers expect Edwards to start messaging on transportation issues very soon. A large cash infusion from the federal government is expected — and like the Medicaid expansion, it’s part of a pot of money that former Gov. Bobby Jindal refused to tap.

It could potentially lead to immediate construction projects in the Capital Region.

All of this will play out as Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson and a new task force start working on identifying priority projects and making recommendations.

What could create interest among lawmakers is the fact that the federal money that’s expected to arrive could free up other cash elsewhere in the transportation budget.

On the campaign side for Edwards, Emilie Tenenbaum has been brought in to oversee fundraising and her appeals are expected to be aggressive.

The governor is working toward a “very strong number” to post in 2017, according to his campaign team, and he recently joked with reporters that he will indeed be running for re-election, although that announcement hasn’t been officially made with all of the usual pomp and circumstance.

Tenenbaum arrives via the New Orleans Business Alliance, but was previously the state campaign finance director for former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. She was also the national campaign finance director for former Congressman Charlie Melancon in his 2010 U.S. Senate bid.