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Lawmakers Nix Governor's Plan To Protect Pre-Existing Conditions, Opt For Attorney General's Instead

Wallis Watkins
From left, Nick Lorusso, Chief Deputy of the Louisiana Department of Insurance, Speaker of the House Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia), Attorney General Jeff Landry and State Senator Fred Mills (R-Parks).

Attorney General Jeff Landry’s plan to protect health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions advanced out of a Senate committee Wednesday, while a similar effort backed by Governor John Bel Edwards failed in a House committee.

The bills are tied to a lawsuit which could potentially result in the Affordable Care Act—or parts of it—being overturned. Attorney General Landry joined that lawsuit last year.

“This is the potential to have a hurricane in the healthcare industry, especially the insurance market," Landry told members of the Senate Health and Welfare committee, "and what we’re doing is putting in place a preparation kit.”

Both the Senate committee and the House Insurance committe considered the two bills last week, but lawmakers balked at the $800 million cost of protecting pre-existing conditions in Louisiana without the Affordable Care Act in place, a price the state can’t afford without help from the federal government.

So, Landry made substantial changes to his bill, sponsored by Senator Fred Mills (R-Parks). In its new form, the bill directs Louisiana’s commissioner of insurance to study how other states have created high risk pools,  designed to bring down the cost of insurance for people with expensive medical conditions.

The commissioner’s plan would then have to be approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, made up of members from the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees.

The changes were enough to gain the support of Senator Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge), who called the bill "a farce" last week.

“The financial piece," said Senator Claitor, "nobody is 100 percent comfortable with that yet, because we don’t know where it’s going to be at the end of the day.”

Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance, Jim Donelon, who supports the ACA lawsuit, says he believes only parts of the health care law would be struck down. The Trump administration, on the other hand, is arguing the law should be reversed entirely, which would eliminate the federal funds currently coming to Louisiana to help pay for coverage.

Senator Gerald Boudreaux (D-Lafayette) says his biggest concern is not knowing whether or not those federal subsidies will be there in the future.

Landry’s plan would require both state and federal funds, but where those dollars come from is unclear.

According to a statement from the Governor's office, "establishing a high-risk pool, as the bill seeks to do, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars that haven’t been identified."

Governor Edwards has criticized Landry's involvement in challenging the Affordable Care Act, calling the lawsuit "misguided."