U.S. Rep. Alexander visits Bogalusa

Published 5:52 am Friday, August 10, 2012

U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander may not be immediately familiar to local residents, but his Congressional District 5 was extended to include Washington Parish as a result of the last census, and he’s making the rounds to introduce himself in advance of the Nov. 6 election.

Alexander, of Quitman, which is southwest of Monroe in north Louisiana, served for 15 years as a Louisiana state representative before he was elected to Congress in 2002. He started that service as a Democrat, but switched to the Republican party in 2004.

Before the redistricting, the 5th Congressional District included basically the eastern half of north Louisiana and reached south into Iberville and Allen parishes. It now includes about the eastern half of north Louisiana plus West Feliciana Parish, portions of East Feliciana, St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes, and all of Washington Parish.

While that covers a considerable spread, Alexander said it consists largely of “people who want government to stay out of the way, to provide job opportunities and clean drinking water, and who believe in local governments.”

He said he’s visited Washington Parish on numerous occasions, including a trip to see if he could provide assistance after the Pearl River fish kill last year, and that he grew up in Jonesboro-Hodge, a paper mill town.

“I grew up under a smoke stack,” Alexander said while at The Daily News office. “It looks just like this. My dad was in construction and I remember sitting in the truck hauling pine bark at 2 or 3 in the morning lots of times.

“I know paper mill people, and I realize that forestry is the number one crop in Louisiana.”

The congressman added that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “on a row-crop basis, Louisiana’s 5th District is the largest agriculture district in the nation for variety of crops.”

But it’s also the ninth poorest Congressional district in the nation, is ranked the most obese in the nation, and “includes a lot of rural hospitals,” which makes Congress’ reduced Medicaid reimbursement to Louisiana and the resultant state cuts to the LSU system and other providers particularly impactful, he said.

“With a 100,000 Medicare population, 40 percent Medicaid-eligible and a lot of young people on LaChip, the 5th District will suffer,” Alexander said.

He explained that the funding loss was expected to take place, but not so abruptly, and that the action was tied to the transportation bill.

“I (handled) the legislation when Charity Hospital was put under LSU to begin with and I think it’s been a tremendous asset to the state of Louisiana,” Alexander said.

“I was disappointed the way this came down from Washington-Medicaid funding withheld the way it was against an overpayment to the state — Congress taking back money never intended for the state of Louisiana. It’s my thinking that the way it was withheld was not fair, and as a result LSU is going to suffer.”

Alexander said that after hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav the net worth per capita of the state, as determined by the Department of Labor, rose due to federal hurricane recovery assistance and private insurance claim payments.

Since the federal match rate for Medicaid is figured by a formula that considers average personal income in a state, with the influx of assistance after the hurricanes, Louisiana paid a higher match rate.

But when Sen. Mary Landrieu and others convinced Congress that the increase was not a true, ongoing per capita number, the state’s portion was dropped to about 28 cents per dollar for an agreed 2-year period.

But that rate continued while the state’s true per capita income increased.

“The state of Louisiana knew the federal government was going to take (the money) back, but did not anticipate it would happen so quickly,” Alexander said. “And the timing (was bad.) The Legislature had just finished. They had budgeted what they thought they were getting then found out they were not getting it. As a result, LSU and some other health care providers will suffer.”

The congressman added that it’s “ironic, stupid maybe, that the transportation bill took Medicaid money away.”

That bill includes numerous projects, many related to transportation.

Alexander said that the leadership in Congress believed passage of the bill was vital, but knew it needed to be funded in order to pass.

Funding to Louisiana from another disaster then came into play. The federal government lost BP oil spill settlement money after Louisiana and other states pushed the Restore Act and were able to get 80 percent of the payment for the five affected states, he said.

“They decided if they could not have the money from BP to fund the transportation bill, it was a good time to take the money back from Medicaid,” Alexander said. “There was very little anybody could do.”

He said he ultimately backed the action for the good of Louisiana.

“I reluctantly voted for it because of the benefits for transportation, student loans, doctors and other things. There are a lot more benefits for the state of Louisiana than negatives. I’m hoping this new transportation bill will give the state more latitude than in the past and be good for the community.”