Lawmaker discusses health care reform, gun control

Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 9:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 9:35 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy spoke to doctors Thursday morning about how health care reforms will affect hospitals and small private practices, and later spoke to business professionals about political issues that included the federal budget crisis, gun legislation and the minimum wage.



Medicaid expansion will cost the state $1.8 billion over 10 years.

Cassidy, whose 6th District covers the northern halves of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, expressed opposition to what's been dubbed Obamacare.

“I would rather the patient have the power, not a bureaucrat,” Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, told attendees of the Thibodaux Chamber of Commerce luncheon, summing up his opinion of government health care policies in America. A member asked him about Canada's federally backed model, and Cassidy responded that he'd rather that individuals “hold the purse strings” and not have to be a “supplicant” of the government.

The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 and will go into full effect in 2014. Since then, private insurance premiums have actually increased because of new mandates on insurance companies, Cassidy told doctors earlier at Thibodaux Regional Medical Center.

Because of cost increases, Cassidy predicted companies will likely drop their employee health benefits and leave workers to buy insurance in government-regulated health insurance exchanges at a burden to the taxpayer.

Under the law, Medicaid will be expanded to include all residents with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line or an income of $30,675 for a family of four in 2012. The expansion is federally funded for the first three years, but after that it would be up to states to support expanded Medicaid. While this seems like a good deal, Cassidy said it is a “prisoner's bargain” for Louisiana.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has rejected Medicaid expansion in the state.

After federal support ends, Louisiana would be forced to put up $1.8 billion in state money over the next 10 years to support the Medicaid expansion, Cassidy said.

“The state is having a hard time meeting its obligation already,” he added.

The change in law will require Louisiana to expand Medicaid to include 40 percent of the insurance market and find a way to come up with the money to pay it or reject expansion and continue to have a high percentage of uninsured residents who will be forced to buy insurance or pay a tax penalty.

With the state restructuring the charity hospital system, the traditional safety net for the poor, that could leave local hospitals caring for more patients with Medicaid or uninsured patients, he said.

Cassidy said he is working with House Republicans on a solution to these dilemmas.

Throughout his speech to the Thibodaux Chamber of Commerce, Cassidy outlined his reservations with increasing government spending. He formed a circle with his hands, referring to it as the pie chart of federal spending.

“In 1965, a small piece of the pie went to Medicare and Medicaid,” he said, forming a sliver with his fingers in the circle.

“Now, it's about 50 percent,” he said, cutting off half of the circle. That means that now, fewer federal tax dollars can go toward Army Corps of Engineers projects, medical research and infrastructure development, he said.

This is why he believes Medicaid and Medicare should be reformed, he said.

Cassidy also spoke to the chamber about the gun control debate sparked after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, arguing that stricter gun laws “would have done nothing to prevent these tragedies,” but better mental health services would have.

Thibodaux attorney Matthew Block, a Democrat and former delegate in the past three Democratic National Conventions, asked Cassidy how such ideas about mental health care could be reconciled with public hospitals closing in the state as well as Jindal's claim he will not be expanding Medicaid.

Cassidy responded that the federal government should give states block grants to better fund mental health services.

“The premise of his point is that we're not doing enough now,” Block said after Cassidy's speech. “So if we need to do more — and I think we do need to do more — that's going to take more resources, not less. We're not in a time where anyone, including Congressman Cassidy, is allocating more resources to mental health care. I appreciate the point he's trying to make. I just don't think it addresses the issue.”

In closing his speech to the chamber, Cassidy briefly touched on President Barack Obama's recent pledge to try to raise the minimum wage to $9, mentioning that “while raising that minimum wage sounds wonderful,” he doesn't agree with it.

Cassidy cited a statistic that 20 to 30 percent of black teens in Washington, D.C., are unemployed because the city has such a high minimum wage.

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