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LA special session stumbles again, as Medicaid bills stall

BATON ROUGE, LA - House Republican leaders eyeing Medicaid restrictions met a critical blow Thursday, as four bills recommending work and cost-share requirements for some recipients flat-lined in a committee.

The proposed changes to the low-income health care program were meant to appease House GOP higher-ups, in exchange for supporting revenue to offset $994 million in taxes expiring July 1. The opposition to Medicaid legislation is leaving many lawmakers wondering if any major bills will pass during the special session, a stalemate that would jeopardize state funds to health, law enforcement, higher education and infrastructure.

"I'd like to vote for something," said Rep. Larry Bagley (R-Stonewall), a member of the House Health and Welfare Committee. "I'm tired of this."

Both Democrats and Republicans opposed the Medicaid work requirements bill, drafted by committee chair Rep. Frank Hoffmann (R-West Monroe). Rep. Dodie Horton (R-Haughton) supports the idea of restrictions, but claimed that the legislation lacked data.

"I don't know how you can do all this work, find out all this information, tell us how many this will affect, how much this will cost, before we have to vote on legislating it," she said.

Cutting Medicaid coverage to those who do not meet the proposed 20-hour-a-week work requirement would save the state more than $510 per person each year, according to independent fiscal estimates.

Other parts of the work requirements bill would cost the state millions of dollars on staff and software, according to legislative analysis. Overall, the legislation would rack up $80 million in one-time costs, followed by an annual cost of $15 million. The federal government would cover a portion of the price tag, though the state would have to pay as well.

"The last time I checked, we were broke," said Rep. Kenny Cox (D-Natchitoches). "Broke, broke."

Democrats expressed additional concern that the Republican-backed Medicaid bills target recipients, not hospitals or healthcare providers, for fraud and overcharging the state.

"I feel like we're feeding into stereotypes that people on Medicaid don't want to work," said Rep. Helena Moreno (D-New Orleans).

Hoffmann voluntarily pulled his bill, citing overwhelming backlash. Rep. Jack McFarland (R-Jonesboro) later deferred his Medicaid proposal as well, for the same reason.

”I can read the tea leaves,” he said.

Whether the sponsors will re-introduce their bills before the 17-day special session ends March 7 remains unknown.

The Medicaid stalemate comes just a day after members of the House Ways and Means Committee froze all major revenue bills. The most notable piece of legislation stalled Wednesday, by Rep. Stephen Dwight (R-Lake Charles), would replace a quarter of the expiring fifth penny of sales tax. Democratic members said they would only support a higher permanent sales tax in exchange for fewer income tax deductions.

”I think without this bill, this session is over,” Dwight said.

House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia), whose calls for sales tax replacements and Medicaid changes have met little headway this session, has adjourned the chamber through Sunday. House committees will meet to consider tax and Medicaid bills once more.

Failure to fill the budget gap in the special session would likely force lawmakers into another special session come June. State law prevents legislators to take up revenue matters during this year’s regular session from mid-March to early June

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