Edwards strikes at Rispone on Medicaid, ties to GOP donor

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday accused Republican opponent Eddie Rispone of intending to kick hundreds of thousands of people off Louisiana's Medicaid expansion program, ending their health insurance coverage, if he wins the runoff election.

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The Deep South's only Democratic governor also struck at Rispone for his tight ties to wealthy GOP donor Lane Grigsby, who faces criticism of election meddling for his failed effort to persuade a Republican state Senate candidate to exit the race by offering to help him run for a judgeship instead. Edwards described Grigsby as Rispone's "puppet master" and said both men were "dangerous" for Louisiana.

Since being forced into the head-to-head Nov. 16 matchup against Rispone, Edwards has ramped up his hits against Rispone, including launching his first televised attack ad of his campaign.

Edwards appeared outside a north Baton Rouge emergency room to slam Rispone's Medicaid expansion proposal, which targets the taxpayer-financed health insurance program enacted by the Democratic incumbent. Edwards said the plan threatens access to services, the viability of rural hospitals and health industry jobs.

"Eddie Rispone would rip away their health care," Edwards said. "And while the hardworking people get punished, we all pay the price."

Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman making his first bid for elected office, has said he intends to keep the Edwards-created Medicaid expansion in place, but plans to "freeze" enrollment until he can eliminate millions in wasteful spending he says exists in the program.

Republicans cite legislative audits that documented money spent on ineligible services and people. In one report, the legislative auditor projected Medicaid expansion may have spent as much as $85 million over 20 months on people who earned too much for the coverage.

"Eddie understands that the only way to protect Medicaid for future generations is to reform it," Rispone spokesman Anthony Ramirez said in a statement. "Unfortunately, John Bel Edwards has mismanaged the state Medicaid expansion so badly that he wasted $85 million dollars of our money giving benefits to people who are not even eligible."

About 470,000 people, largely the working poor, get health insurance through the Medicaid expansion. Edwards said Rispone's plan would eventually force an estimated 300,000 expansion enrollees from the government insurance coverage.

Because of income fluctuations among seasonal and shift workers, expansion recipients often rotate in and out of eligibility. If enrollment is frozen, they would be unable to regain coverage after they've lost it, even if their income drops back to the eligibility level.

Beyond health care, the Democratic incumbent also panned Rispone's ties to Grigsby, who encouraged Rispone to enter the governor's race.

A wealthy industrial contractor like Rispone, Grigsby told local news outlets that he offered to support Franklin Foil in a judge's election if he dropped out of the competition for a Baton Rouge-based state Senate seat and kept the race from a three-way runoff. Foil didn't take the offer.

Grigsby wanted Foil to step aside for his fellow Republican opponent, Steve Carter. Foil and Carter, state representatives, were declared tied for second-place in Saturday's primary and both appeared headed to a runoff against Democrat Beverly Brooks Thompson. But a Thursday recount determined Foil edged Carter out of the Nov. 16 election, according to local media.

Edwards called Grigsby's offer "illegal."

"It shows you the mentality that he has, what he believes his place in Louisiana to be," Edwards said. "Most dangerous for the people of Louisiana, he is the puppetmaster calling the shots with Eddie Rispone. And if that's the guy that Eddie Rispone is hooked to the hip with, it speaks volumes about how dangerous Eddie Rispone is for the state of Louisiana."

Rispone's campaign hasn't responded to multiple requests for comment Wednesday and Thursday about Grigsby.

Grigsby runs an organization called Truth in Politics that has attacked Edwards throughout the governor's race.

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