2 former health chiefs push La. Medicaid expansion

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Two former Louisiana health care secretaries pushed Friday for expanding Medicaid in the state to cover thousands of uninsured residents, pitting them against Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.

David Hood was secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals under Republican former Gov. Mike Foster. Fred Cerise was DHH secretary under Democratic former Gov. Kathleen Blanco. The two men were featured in a newspaper ad published in The (Baton Rouge) Advocate newspaper calling the Medicaid expansion a good deal for Louisiana.

"Medicaid expansion offers a path to regular access to health care for working adults," the ad says.

Hood and Cerise said the inclusion of up to 400,000 uninsured people in the government-run insurance program would improve people's health, be a good financial deal for the state and help Louisiana's health care delivery system.

Jindal opposes the expansion, calling it an improper growth of a costly and inefficient government entitlement program that weakens the private insurance market. The federal government would fully cover the costs of new patients' health care during the first couple years, then its share would gradually decline to 90 percent.

"Ultimately the program as it exists today is unsustainable," Jindal's health secretary Bruce Greenstein told lawmakers this week. He added, "There is still a long way to go to make the program meet the needs of 21st Century health care."

He said the Medicaid expansion would be too expensive for Louisiana, and he said the Obama administration should offer more flexibility to the states with the dollars to offer care through private companies.

The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates it would cost Louisiana $1.2 billion over 10 years to cover the additional low-income residents in exchange for $15.8 billion in federal funding.

Hood and Cerise said Louisiana taxpayers will pay for the federal Medicaid expansion whether the state's citizens benefit from participation or not.

"If Louisiana refuses to participate, our share of the money that pays for this program will be used to support the Medicaid expansion in other states and our low-income residents will continue to lack access to care," their ad says.

Hood took over as DHH secretary after Jindal left the job in the Foster administration.

Cerise most recently was ousted from overseeing the LSU public hospital system after clashing with the Jindal administration over its cuts to the university-run network of hospitals and clinics that care for the poor and uninsured.

The newspaper ad was paid by Forward Louisiana, an arm of Louisiana Progress Action, a Baton Rouge-based, progressive-leaning group that supports the Medicaid expansion.

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