Louisiana’s Republican governor sees Blue Cross Blue Shield sale as an opportunity to purge the state Medicaid rolls

Robert Mann

Gov. Jeff Landry says he supports the controversial, proposed $2.5 billion sale of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana to Elevance Health of Indianapolis because it will enable him to dump thousands of Louisiana’s working families from the Medicaid rolls.

Landry doesn’t appear to be concerned about reports that in recent years Elevance Health has racked up $26 million in regulatory fines for bad behavior in seven states, including Louisiana.

During remarks last week to the Louisiana Hospital Association, Landry said he hopes the nonprofit created by the proposed deal — Accelerate Louisiana Initiative — will prompt major changes in the state’s Medicaid program. That’s the federal-state partnership that provides health insurance to the working poor.

But Landry doesn’t view this deal as a way to make healthcare better for these workers and their families. He apparently sees it as a way to kick many of them off the rolls.

That’s because, like Bobby Jindal before him, he doesn’t regard them as the hard-working people they are. The vast majority of those enrolled in Medicaid in Louisiana — those not children, elderly, or disabled — are employed.

But Landry sees them as shiftless freeloaders who are gaming the system.

As the Baton Rouge Advocate’s Stephanie Riegel reported, Landry made no secret of what he wants to do:

“In other words, we’re going to be able to have an organization that is going to work towards trying to move those people off of Medicaid,” the Republican governor said. . .

Landry said Accelerate money will also be used to help get the state’s “safety net programs” working in sync. He used the example of a hypothetical patient with Type II diabetes, a chronic health condition that leads to other health problems. Landry said the patient might receive a “shiny brochure” from her doctor telling her to eat healthy and lose weight to help her condition.

“Then, she puts it in her purse, goes to Piggly Wiggly and goes down the aisle to the soda, chips, cookies, and then she goes to the cash register with her Louisiana Purchase card,” said Landry, using an old trope that criticizes welfare recipients. “How about if we had an organization that helps the government start to integrate the food stamp program with the Department of Health, so instead of getting a fancy brochure we could give her $100” if she engages in healthy lifestyle choices,” he said.

“When else are we going to get that opportunity again?” he said. “Those are the things we will do.”

It’s interesting that when former First Lady Michelle Obama encouraged people to eat healthier — and for schools to serve more nutritious food to children — conservatives had a hissy fit about the government becoming a nanny state.

Obama wasn’t proposing to deprive people of health care if they bought potato chips instead of kale. And yet her proposals for school nutrition standards sent White conservatives into meltdown.

That sentiment was perhaps summed up best by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin:

What [Michelle Obama] is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat. … instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us according to some politician or politician’s wife priorities, just leave us alone, get off our back and allow us as individuals to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions.

Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King King also piled on:

The misguided nanny state, as advanced by Michelle Obama’s ‘Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act,’ was interpreted by Secretary [Tom] Vilsack to be a directive that, because some kids are overweight, he would put every child on a diet. Parents know that their kids deserve all of the healthy and nutritious food they want.

But, now, when Landry singles out the working poor and suggests they should be coerced by the government to buy different food, that’s just the government requiring people to behave more responsibly.

To many conservatives, it’s an outrage for a Black woman to suggest ways to feed your family healthier food or to live a more active lifestyle. But it’s okay for a White governor to tell Black people if they don’t stop buying potato chips, they’ll lose their health insurance.

I wonder what the difference is?

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