AP Wire

La. GOP in Congress mostly mum on health plan

by Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

Photo Illustration. Obviously

Louisiana's majority-Republican congressional delegation hasn't exactly embraced the GOP proposal to replace President Barack Obama's health care law, with most members instead offering a cautious, noncommittal response.

Only Rep. Steve Scalise, the third-ranking House Republican and a member of the leadership team pushing the replacement plan, has given a full-throated endorsement to the legislation. He described it Wednesday as a plan to "put patients back in charge of their health care decisions."

Other Louisiana Republicans in Congress are more reticent, saying they're studying the bill.

Rep. Ralph Abraham, a Republican doctor who represents northeast and central Louisiana, said Congress is "on the right road," but he stopped short of backing the legislation, citing outstanding questions.

"Obamacare has failed and must be repealed. This bill seeks to do that, but many of my colleagues have raised significant questions that I agree this Congress must have the courage to address as we move forward," Abraham said in a statement.

Others were equally muted about the GOP legislation.

A spokesman for Rep. Clay Higgins, a Republican representing the Acadiana region, said the congressman was "still learning about it" and would have more information on his position soon. A representative for Republican Rep. Garret Graves didn't respond Wednesday to inquiries about the congressman's thoughts on the bill.

Rep. Mike Johnson, a Republican who represents northwest Louisiana, said he's following the legislation and is "actively discussing and researching possible amendments and alternatives with my colleagues."

Both of Louisiana's U.S. senators, Republicans Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, said they're still digging into details of the proposal.

Cassidy spokesman John Cummins said the senator, a doctor who offered an alternative health law replacement proposal, was waiting for Congressional Budget Office estimates of how many people would be covered under the House GOP plan and what it would cost.

Nationally, Republicans are divided on the proposal devised by House GOP leaders, a plan that has the backing of President Donald Trump. Conservatives say tax credits proposed to replace existing subsidies for health insurance would be too pricey, and they object to the long phase-out of parts of Obama's Medicaid expansion. Republican moderates worry about Medicaid changes that could cost states lost financing.

Louisiana's lone Democrat in the congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, like other members of his party supports Obama's health overhaul and doesn't want it uprooted.

Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is raising objections about the plan's intention to end the higher federal financing rate for Medicaid expansion beneficiaries starting in 2020. States could continue to receive some enhanced federal payments, but only for expansion enrollees covered before that. States would get a lower match for new enrollees.

"The first draft of the replacement fails a critical test for Louisiana by not preserving the Medicaid expansion," the governor said in a statement.

Edwards embraced the expansion program when he took office last year. More than 405,000 people, mostly the working poor, have enrolled in the new coverage.

Edwards said that coverage has caught previously untreated diseases, is offering health care services to people previously without access and is saving the state nearly $200 million this year. Louisiana has taken advantage of enhanced federal financing available through the expansion for services it already was providing to the poor and uninsured.

Louisiana's governor urged Congress to reconsider the GOP's proposed approach to Medicaid expansion and to wait for financial analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office before advancing the bill.

"It's important to remember that many of the faults with the Affordable Care Act exist today because the bill was rushed through Congress. We have to get this right," Edwards said.