BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy tries to persuade fellow GOP senators to support his legislation undoing President Barack Obama's health care law, he lacks the backing of state leaders at home in Louisiana.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday he opposes the proposal, which he said would eliminate health insurance coverage for more than 430,000 people in Louisiana's Medicaid expansion program.
"We're saving lives, money and investing in our people to ensure they are able to receive quality health care," the governor said in a statement. "Importantly, Louisiana's uninsured rate has dropped to nearly 10 percent. Undoing this progress would negatively impact our citizens and our economy."
Edwards' health secretary Rebekah Gee went further, saying Cassidy's proposal also would force damaging cuts to health services for children, people with disabilities and pregnant women.
"The harm to Louisiana from this legislation far outweighs any benefit; therefore, I must register our deep concerns and hope we can find a better path towards fixing the broken parts of our health care system," Gee wrote in a letter to Cassidy that she posted on Twitter late Monday, a day before Edwards announced his opposition.
Even Cassidy's Republican colleague from Louisiana, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, hasn't announced if he'll support the bill, with a spokeswoman saying Tuesday that Kennedy is still reviewing the measure.
Cassidy and his chief co-sponsor, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, are trying to rally 50 Republican votes to pass the bill, which faces solid Democratic opposition. The legislation is backed by the White House and Senate leaders, but their window is closing. After September ends, more votes will be needed to gain passage.
The legislation would replace much of Obama's law with block grants to states and would cut and rework Medicaid. It would let states set their own health coverage requirements, allow insurers to boost premiums on people with serious medical conditions and end Obama's mandates that most Americans buy insurance and that companies offer coverage to workers.
Cassidy and bill supporters said the proposal gives states more flexibility to design their own programs and removes an inequity in which states that expanded Medicaid get more federal health care money than states that didn't.
"Our proposal spends less money than Obamacare. We eliminate the penalties paid by individuals and business which do not conform to Obamacare mandates," Cassidy said in a statement.
Responding to Gee's Twitter post, Cassidy said the health secretary was echoing "a left-wing think tank which is working to preserve Obamacare."
"If Dr. Gee had called and asked how this bill would impact Louisiana, she could have been walked through as to why her concerns are unfounded," he said.
Cassidy's office didn't immediately comment on Edwards' announcement of opposition.
The governor thanked Cassidy for sitting down privately to discuss the legislation and said Cassidy incorporated some ideas the Edwards administration offered. But Edwards said he believed Cassidy's legislation was the wrong approach.
Edwards is among 10 governors from both parties who sent a letter to congressional leaders , asking them to jettison the GOP bill and instead work on bipartisan legislation.
"Congress should take the time to get this process and policy right because it is the American people's lives, well-being and tax dollars that hang in the balance," Edwards said.