Nearly 200,000 people have signed up for Medicaid in the first week of Louisiana’s expanded health care eligibility, state officials say.
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order in January to lift the economic threshold for Medicaid qualification, making it available to hundreds of thousands more Louisiana residents.
Enrollment began June 1, and the latest tally released Wednesday — 197,026 — includes thousands who have been reached through the Louisiana Department of Health partnering with other groups that serve the working poor and low-income families and have similar eligibility requirements.
“By linking these programs, individuals only need to fill out one application instead of having to apply for two separate programs,” Health Department Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee said in a statement. “This process allows the department to get full applications certified more quickly, thereby reducing the number of staff hours that are needed to process applications.”
With Edwards’ order, Louisiana became the 31st state to expand the government-backed health insurance program through the federal health care law. Leaders have spent the past several months preparing for expanded coverage.
Benefits are slated to kick in July 1, and enrollment will continue year-round.
Louisiana is the first state to use existing food stamp eligibility information to determine whether people are now eligible for Medicaid because the two programs have similar income requirements.
Adults who make below 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $33,500 a year for a family of four or $16,200 for a single adult — are among the newly eligible population.
Previously, childless adults were not eligible for Medicaid in Louisiana, and the threshold for people with children was much lower.
The goal is to get 375,000 new adults — mostly the working poor — onto the state’s Medicaid rolls in the coming year.
Leaders have said they hoped to have at least half that many already on the books by July 1, when coverage starts.
With the new figures released Wednesday, they’ve officially surpassed the halfway mark, and leaders are eyeing opportunities to make even larger gains.
The state last week sent 105,000 notifications to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients who are likely to qualify for Medicaid under the new requirements. More than 1,100 people already have responded to the letters and enrolled in Medicaid coverage, according to the Health Department.
Additionally, more than 7,872 calls have been made to the state Medicaid enrollment center regarding the new requirements, and more than 20,000 unique visitors have accessed the state’s Medicaid online application site.
Under the federal health care law, the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the tab for the state’s new enrollees through the end of the year. The federal match rate will gradually scale back to 90 percent, with the state picking up the other 10 percent by 2020.
Edwards, a Democrat, quickly signed the expansion order in January after taking office. His predecessor, Republican Bobby Jindal, had staunchly opposed expansion as he opposed President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
“This is the easiest big decision I’ll make as governor,” Edwards repeatedly has said in touting the growing eligible population.
The GOP-controlled state Legislature, which wrapped up the 2016 regular session this week, didn’t attempt to block the expansion.
The federal government already pays most of Louisiana’s existing Medicaid costs at about 62 percent.
Because of the added boost from expansion, Edwards’ administration estimates that expansion will free up an additional $184 million in the state budget in the coming year — largely by shifting health care to a more defined program, rather than leaving the uninsured to seek out costlier alternatives.
In an analysis of the program, the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation noted the “stakes and expectations” of expansion in Louisiana, which is the first state in the Deep South to embrace the federal health care option.
“Ongoing progress will depend upon leadership, an effective federal-state partnership, buy-in from state employees and an involved stakeholder community,” Kaiser analysts wrote in a report released this week.