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Louisiana governor signs law on health insurance coverage

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed legislation that could eventually lead to health insurance coverage for some residents if the federal Affordable Care Act is overturned.

The Advocate reports the Democratic governor once called the bill a “fig leaf” aimed at saving Louisiana’s Republican attorney general, Jeff Landry, from embarrassment

The new law authorizes Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon to study other states’ health care models to find a potential replacement for the individual health exchange under the Affordable Care Act. It would be needed only if the federal health law is overturned.

Landry has joined a Texas lawsuit challenging the law that was signed in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama.

Both Edwards and Landry backed bills to provide protection in case the federal law disappears. Republican lawmakers sided with Landry.

Most state lawmakers, along with Landry and Edwards, are running for re-election this year. Edwards has said Republicans killing his measure was “Washington-style politics.”

After lawmakers passed Landry’s bill, the attorney general called on Edwards to “follow the will of our people’s representatives” and sign the bill into law.

Edwards quietly signed the bill Thursday without an announcement.

The new law directs Donelon to study other states’ best practices for insurance pools, which could eventually replace the Affordable Care Act’s current individual market. Landry has said he wants to enact an insurance pool similar to what Maine has in place, called an “invisible high-risk pool.”

Such a pool would subsidize insurers offering plans for people who don’t get coverage through work or other means, like the individual exchange currently does. But it is not clear where the money would come from to fund the system, something lawmakers pointed out as the bill made its way through the Legislature.

Edwards previously cast doubt that the bill would maintain the current level of protections for those with pre-existing conditions, and highlighted the uncertainty surrounding its funding.

“The bill doesn’t do any harm,” Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens said Friday. “It conducts a limited study of a problem that Jeff Landry’s own lawsuit causes. The Governor respects the will of the Legislature to pass this bill and hopes to continue the discussion of how to protect Louisiana’s families.”

Currently, people who don’t receive health coverage through their employer, the government or other means can access insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s individual exchange. Enrollment in the exchange in Louisiana has fallen from a high of 214,148 people in 2016 to a low of 92,948 this year, as people migrated to other forms of insurance like Medicaid expansion and employer-sponsored coverage.

About 800,000 people in Louisiana have pre-existing conditions. Another nearly half a million receive health coverage through Medicaid expansion, which was also part of the Affordable Care Act.