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Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING – Gov. John Bel Edwards signs the first executive order of his new administration at the State Capitol, No. JBE 16-01, which provides for Medicaid expansion in the state of Louisiana.

After two rounds of quarterly wage checks that are part of a new eligibility system for Louisiana’s Medicaid program, the number of people enrolled in Medicaid expansion in the state has fallen by nearly 51,000 people.

Data released this week by the Louisiana Department of Health shows the Medicaid expansion enrollment has fallen from a high of 505,503 in April to 454,638 as of July 2.

Most of those people lost coverage because of new wage checks done quarterly to determine if people still qualify for the government-funded health coverage, which provides health care to low-income people. Gov. John Bel Edwards expanded the Medicaid program, as allowed under former President Barack Obama’s landmark health law the Affordable Care Act, to cover people who make up to 138% of the federal poverty line, or $33,534 a year for a family of four.

Jen Steele, Medicaid director at LDH, said it will likely take a full year with the new eligibility system to determine where enrollment will end up. But the latest figures show a smaller drop in enrollment, falling from around 457,243 to 454,638 from June to July, compared to previous months.

Steele said the volatility in the numbers will “level off” as the state continues to do quarterly wage checks. LDH did annual wage checks until earlier this year, when it began checking enrollees’ incomes every three months.

“I think we probably need a little time to say definitively, but our belief is we’re beginning to normalize,” Steele said. “We had a lot of change with the new system.”

In April, the state kicked 30,000 people off the Medicaid program after the upgraded eligibility system went into effect and determined they earn too much to receive the health coverage.

Officials said the vast majority of those people did not respond to the letters urging them to verify their income, so it was not clear how many actually earned too much to qualify. At the end of June, the state kicked another nearly 11,500 off the program for the same reason.

Since then, about 7% of the people who lost coverage have returned to the program, Steele said.

LDH is also still experiencing high call volumes from an influx of people who are trying to verify with the state agency they still qualify. The next wage checks will happen in August.

Bob Johannessen, a spokesman for the health department, emphasized the people who lost coverage because of the new eligibility system qualified for the program when they first enrolled.

Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com