With one week remaining before the March 31 deadline for health coverage this year, a Republican filing a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act has become a familiar, if tiresome, sight.
But Republicans filing a lawsuit against the law on the grounds of copyright infringement? That’s something new.
Yet that is effectively what happened this month in Louisiana. On March 14, the state’s lieutenant governor sued the progressive group MoveOn.org over a billboard criticizing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid in the state. The billboard uses Louisiana’s tourism slogan — “Pick Your Passion!” — and adds: “But hope you don’t lose your health. Gov. Jindal’s denying Medicaid to 242,000 people.” The lawsuit claims that the MoveOn ad will “result in substantial and irreparable harm, injury, and damages” to the Louisiana tourism office — as if denying health insurance to the neediest will not cause the state “substantial and irreparable harm.”
Legal experts say Jindal’s ploy has no chance of succeeding, thanks to the First Amendment. (This would be the same First Amendment that the governor passionately invoked in defense of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson’s right to spew racist and homophobic vitriol.)
Jindal’s reason for refusing to expand Medicaid is as specious as his reason for suing MoveOn. He claims, falsely, that the expansion would divert funds that now go to disabled individuals under traditional Medicaid. In reality, the health-care law doesn’t harm the existing program. It creates several programs to improve care for the disabled receiving Medicaid; Jindal enrolled Louisiana in three of them. But this hasn’t stopped him from blaming the ACA for his own bad policies, including cuts he made to state Medicaid funding for pregnant women.
Louisiana isn’t the only state where Republicans are preventing thousands of low-income Americans from receiving health care. In Virginia, where state lawmakers refuse to expand Medicaid, hospitals will face higher costs and reduced services as a result. One million Texans will be denied access to coverage if the state continues to reject the Medicaid expansion. Meanwhile, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is willing to leave 300,000 of his neediest citizens uninsured. His reasoning? He’s afraid that the law might be repealed, leaving his state no way to meet its commitments — an ironic stance for a Republican to take, since they’re the ones trying to repeal it!
The 19 states that are refusing to expand Medicaid aren’t just leaving low-income Americans out to dry — they’re also leaving billions of health-care dollars on the table. While Bobby Jindal busies himself over a billboard, his state’s internal analysis found that Medicaid expansion would save Louisiana as much as $134 million in 2015 alone.
The real cost of Republican cruelty, however, cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but in people’s lives. Researchers at Harvard and the City University of New York concluded that without the Medicaid expansion, individuals will go without checkups, cancer screenings and treatment for diseases such as diabetes and depression — leading to thousands of premature and preventable deaths.
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So much for compassionate or fiscal conservatism.
Amid the misinformation and fear-mongering, however, lies a real opportunity for Democrats to increase support for the ACA and win more races in November.
Consider the recent special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, where Republican David Jolly’s victory is being widely interpreted as a rebuke of the Affordable Care Act. Polls suggest that it wasn’t Obamacare that hurt Democrat Alex Sink but the same factor that often hurts Democrats in midterm elections: low turnout.
To combat this, what if Democrats organized a clear, concerted effort to demonstrate how Republicans are denying millions of Americans access to health insurance?
There are already signs that raising awareness is working. The Moral Monday movement, which favors expanding Medicaid, has been getting attention for its protests at public meetings in several southern states. Other states are considering following the lead of New Hampshire, where the state Senate voted, with Republican support, for a modified expansion.
At the same time, progressives should back MoveOn’s brilliant billboard campaign parodying the tourism slogans of not just Louisiana but also Texas, Florida, Nebraska, Virginia and Wisconsin — which are all blocking the Medicaid expansion.
The campaign might consider going to South Dakota, Alaska, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi and Maine, which have Republican governors, contested Senate races and huge numbers of residents who are being denied access to health care. They need to know who is at fault.
High-profile Democrats running for federal office this cycle should be similarly bold. Voters, especially low-income voters who are most hurt by the GOP’s cruel stance on health care, need to understand just what’s at stake. It’s time for Democrats to run on health-care reform, not away from it — and Medicaid expansion is a worthy place to start. If they need to know how far Republicans have gone to prevent it, there’s a billboard along Interstate 10 in Louisiana that’s a pretty good guide.