The Deep South might finally be warming up to Obamacare.
Both Alabama and Louisiana are inching toward expanding Medicaid to cover thousands more Americans. Taken together, the two states could expand coverage to more than 330,000 low-income people. And they could mark the beginning of the end for a region that has steadfastly refused to cooperate on President Obama's health coverage expansion.
Louisiana and Alabama are both inching toward Medicaid expansion
The Louisiana legislature passed a bill this summer to allow the next governor to expand Medicaid, an optional part of the Affordable Care Act. In the lead-up to the state's gubernatorial election on November 21, both candidates, Republican Sen. David Vitter, have voiced support for putting that legislation to use.
"I believe we should bring our federal tax dollars back to Louisiana, to help us meet our obligations to our people when they allow us to save money in the process especially, and certainly that includes Medicaid expansion," Vitter said at an event last Friday.
Vitter has made comments about "openness" to the Medicaid expansion for at least a year now.
Meanwhile, in Alabama, an executive committee voted Wednesday to "close the coverage gap" in Alabama by expanding the Medicaid program.
Governor's Committee unanimously votes to accept recommendation to "close the coverage gap" in Alabama -- Medicaid expansion. #alpolitics— Brian Lyman (@lyman_brian) November 18, 2015
Both the legislature and Republican Gov. Robert Bentley still need to weigh in on the decision. But the unanimous decision from the governor's committee is a first step toward embracing a big Obamacare program.
The Deep South has held out on Medicaid — until now
Thirty states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, offering public coverage to people who earn less than 133 percent of the poverty line (about $14,000 for an individual or $32,000 for a family of four). Twenty states have not participated in the program, leaving millions of Americans in a "coverage gap": They earn too little to qualify for subsidized private insurance but don't have a Medicaid option available, either.
If you look at the map of states that have expanded Medicaid, you can see that the ones refusing the program (in gray) are largely concentrated in the South:
To have either Alabama or Louisiana expand Medicaid would be a big win for the health care law, opening up its programs to tens of thousands of low-income Americans.
Correction: This article mistakenly identified David Vitter's position. He is a sitting senator from Louisiana.