Louisiana's next governor says he will expand Medicaid—and soon

Edwards will take office on Jan. 11

Josh Zeitlin, Associate Editor

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D) on Saturday won Louisiana's gubernatorial election in a landslide, priming the state to become the 31st—in addition to Washington, D.C.—to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act.

Edwards, who will be sworn into office on Jan. 11, 2016, won the runoff election against scandal-plagued Sen. David Vitter (R) by about 12 percentage points.

The election was a unique one, especially for a Southern state: Both candidates in the race expressed support for expanding Medicaid. (The current governor, term-limited Bobby Jindal (R), opposes expansion.)

Vitter said he would only expand Medicaid if he can seek a plan via a federal waiver, and he wanted to require beneficiaries to be employed to be eligible for coverage.

That calls into question whether Medicaid expansion would have actually gotten done under Vitter—several sitting governors made similar requests of CMS, which were rejected. Whether Vitter would have budged from his stance on work requirements will remain an unknown.

A bit later than 'Day One'

Edwards, on the other hand, had said he would enact a traditional Medicaid expansion on "Day One" via executive order. On Sunday, though, Edwards appeared to back off from that timeline, Kevin Litten reports for the Times-Picayune.

The governor-elect called Medicaid expansion "among the highest priorities" of a new administration. But he said that "a difference of opinion" in how to interpret the expansion-funding plan passed earlier this year by the state Legislature could delay when expansion gets done.

Kentucky's next governor: I'll scrap traditional Medicaid expansion

The funding deal codified the Louisiana Hospital Association's (LHA) offer to cover part of the state's portion of Medicaid expansion beginning in 2017 via a fee charged to hospitals. It would also fund expansion through fees on health plan premiums, among other sources of revenue. LHA placed an April 1, 2016, deadline on expansion for its funding offer to apply.

But whether it's 'Day One' or later, Edwards reiterated that he would make Medicaid expansion a reality in the state, expanding eligibility to hundreds of thousands of residents.

"We are going to expand the Medicaid program in Louisiana," he said Sunday. "We're going to do it as soon as we possibly can and as responsibly as we possibly can."

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