17 May 2017

Committee action, May 17: HB 6, HB 34

HB 6 by Rep. Paul Hollis would allow the state to exempt the state from penalties from the individual mandate for buying health insurance. He told the Senate Insurance Committee that a recent executive order allowed for states asking for this to happen, so Louisiana needed to pursue a waiver to do this. The law would dictate that the state make the application.

Senators queried about the practical effect of the bill. Sen. Blade Morrish wondered how the penalty mechanism worked, which is collected by the Internal Revenue Service only when a taxpayer did not pay the fee and had an income tax refund coming. He argued the taxpayer even could choose whether to pay it regardless of any waiver. He later noted that so little choice in coverage requirements and high deductibles forced families either to pay above their means or had to pay the penalty unless something like the waiver came into play.

Opponents argued the individual mandate prevented rates from increasing to make up for compensated care, citing recent analysis of the potential replacement for the law that had the individual mandate – although that actually largely measured the changes in age requirements and mandated coverages. They also alleged it would be unconstitutional and that current law did not allow for such a waiver – even though former Pres. Barack Obama had issued waivers without the law explicitly permitting these. Additionally, they claimed confusion would result.

They also claimed that only families who could “afford’ to pay the penalty were assessed these, and insinuated that high costs perpetuated by insurers could be controlled. Sen. Ryan Gatti disputed that families without subsidies could obtain affordable insurance, and was told then the state could expand subsidization on its own. Gatti noted that this created a strange dynamic where this would raise costs on families even further through taxes, and was told that economic expansion would take care of that. Sen. Rick Ward noted that before the mandate preimums and deductibles in the individual market were much lower, while opponents claimed that was a result of inflation, not the mandate.

Hollis saw neither symbolism only nor patent unconstitutionality with the bill. With a vote called, Gatti and Ward voted for the bill, while Morrish and Sens. Ronnie Johns and Gary Smith voted against, so it failed.

HB 34 by Rep. Steven Pugh would amend the Constitution to consolidate higher education governance into one board. He said to the House and Governmental Affairs Committee this would streamline operations and leave more money for educating.

Rep. Pat Smith argued the change would reduce the attention paid to colleges other than those in the Louisiana State University system, especially with historically black schools. The bill would weigh influence of schools, which she thought would ineffectively serve varying missions.

The measure failed 3-6, and then it was deferred involuntarily without objection.

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