BATON ROUGE, La. — President Obama gave a pat on the back to Louisiana’s new Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, for his move to accept federal funds for expanded Medicaid coverage, a key part of the president’s health-care-reform efforts. And the White House said it would seek to continue that funding to win over governors still opposed to expansion.
Obama, who came to the state capital here as part of a campaign to reach out directly to voters after his State of the Union address, said at a town-hall-style meeting Thursday that Edwards had “already delivered” by taking “the bold and wise step to expand Medicaid.”
“It was the right thing to do, and, by the way, it will help the state’s finances,” the president told a packed gymnasium at McKinley High School in a low-income, overwhelmingly African American neighborhood. “And it shows why elections matter.”
During the event, Obama fielded questions from a friendly crowd including whether his wife would consider a White House bid (“Let me tell you, there are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes and Michelle is not running for president”) and whether he thought there would be a cure for cancer.
“It probably won’t be cured in my lifetime, but I think it will be cured in yours,” Obama told the 10-year-old girl who asked about the disease. “And that’s why we’ve got to get started now.”
Edwards acted on Medicaid on Tuesday — a day after taking office — by issuing an executive order making Louisiana the 31st state to accept federal funds for expansion. White House press secretary Josh Earnest has said the action will give about 300,000 more Louisianans access to Medicaid coverage starting July 1. In addition, an estimated 22,000 more people will receive all needed care annually, resulting in 230 fewer deaths a year, according to the administration.
The White House also said Medicaid expansion will lower the state’s uncompensated care costs by about $200 million. Louisiana projected last fall that its budget deficit would widen to half a billion dollars in the current fiscal year.
Asked in a Twitter chat Thursday about his “greatest memory” as president, Obama replied : “the night aca passed; standing on truman balcony with all staff whod made it happen, knowing we’d helped millions.”
Edwards’s predecessor, Bobby Jindal, had refused to accept federal funds for expansion. Like many Republicans, he opposed the Affordable Care Act. In Nebraska, where Obama stopped on Wednesday, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) remains opposed even though several Republican legislators have voiced support.
The ACA provides federal money for states to extend Medicaid coverage to all nonelderly adults with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $32,253 for a family of four). As part of its fiscal 2017 budget proposals, the Obama administration will ask Congress to continue expansion funding to try to entice other potential latecomer states.
Under the health-care law, the federal government has been paying 100 percent of expansion states’ costs. That is set to begin tapering down next year until 2020, when states would be covering 10 percent of their costs. But the president wants to allow any state that chooses to expand the program in the future to qualify for the same three years of full federal support, according to a posting on the White House blog.
“It is further evidence of the Administration’s willingness to work with states to build on recent progress in expanding health coverage and making Medicaid affordable to states and taxpayers alike,” wrote Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council.
However, Obama’s proposal has very little prospect in a Republican Congress that remains hostile to many elements of the ACA. Only a week ago, the president vetoed a measure that would have rolled back the ACA, including the expansion of Medicaid and the federal subsidies to help people buy health coverage through the law’s insurance exchanges.
Several governors — in South Dakota, Virginia and Wyoming — have included the expansion option in their budget submissions.
The Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that states must be allowed to decide whether to take part in the Medicaid expansion. Those that have opted not to are: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.