Here’s an idea for a new state slogan: “Louisiana: We’re so compassionate even the dead get free health care.” You may have heard that between 2013 and 2017, the state spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on health care for 712 dead people. It didn’t work. They’re still dead.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's office released a report this week revealing the Louisiana Department of Health improperly paid $718,000 over four years for dead Medicaid patients. Most of the cash went as premiums to private companies the state uses to oversee services for most of Louisiana's Medicaid patients.

Medicaid Contracts

State Rep. Dustin Miller, D-Opelousas, center, speaks with Reps. Jack McFarland, R-Winnfield, left, and Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, during a hearing about proposed Medicaid managed-care contract extensions, which were blocked by House Republicans on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, in Baton Rouge.

The Department of Health continued with the payments for the dead despite getting a vital records report daily detailing the names of those who die in Louisiana each day. Chris Magee with the legislative auditor’s office says the computer automation the Department of Health set up did not catch all the names of the deceased and sent out payments on their behalf. Magee says if the department would have run the data manually by simply cross-referencing the names of the dead with names on the Medicaid roll, the payments for health care of the dead would not have gone out. It appears to me manually running the names each day is the only way to guarantee the state no longer sends out money to health care companies for treating the dead.

“A nonzero number is not acceptable to us. Our goal is to get to zero. ” said Andrew Tuozzolo, Louisiana Health Department chief of staff.

Audit: $718K spent in Louisiana on dead Medicaid patients

Tuozzolo believes the computer can catch all of the names of the deceased on Medicaid roles if all the proper edits are in place but admits it hasn’t worked to perfection thus far. As to why the department doesn’t have someone manually cross-reference the names of the dead with those on the Medicaid roles each day, Tuozzolo said, “If I had more access to more staff, but our staff has been cut in half the past few years.“ Tuozzolo says the Health Department staff has been cut down from roughly 12,000 to 5,000 employees in the past eight years.

In defense of the Louisiana Department of Health, it is making dramatic progress in lowering the number of dead people getting health care payments. Tuozzolo says his department went from paying for the health care of approximately 1,700 dead people per year five years ago to now only a couple of hundred. Oddly enough, the dead people no longer getting free health care in that time span have not complained or lobbied for the reinstatement of their health care benefit. Politicians may have finally found the one group not throwing a fit when you cut off their free stuff.

Medicaid has become such a monstrous government program in Louisiana. When Gov. John Bel Edwards expanded the entitlement program under Obamacare, it brought in 453,000 new dependents in only a year and a half. That’s a considerable growth of the welfare state in Louisiana. Currently, there are approximately 1.6 million people on Medicaid in Louisiana costing taxpayers $14 billion per year. The feds pick up most of that expense now, but more of the expenses will shift to the state as the years go on. To assume the state will one day regret expanding Medicaid and becoming more interlocked with a giant government entitlement program is not a stretch. Ten years from now, history will not remember well Gov. Edwards decision to expand Medicaid.

Government programs grow. It’s what they do. They don’t shrink much. But the growth of Medicaid in Louisiana is completely out of control. In 2012, the state spent $7.7 billion on Medicaid. That number has close to doubled in just five years and now makes up almost half of the state’s $28 billion dollar budget. Now one-third of everyone in Louisiana gets government-funded health care through Medicaid. And not all of the dependents are breathing.

Dan Fagan is a former TV and radio broadcaster who lives in Metairie. Email him at faganshow@gmail.com.