Gov John Bel Edwards 051019 (copy)

Gov. John Bel Edwards addressed the press about the legislative session on Friday, May, 10, 2019.

Most would agree the goal of any new government entitlement program should be to give someone a hand up, not a handout. The last thing you would want a government program to do is encourage a participant to stop paying his own way. But that appears to be exactly what one of Gov John Bel Edwards' self-proclaimed signature achievements is doing.

Edwards, a Democrat, created more than 500,000 new government dependents by using his pen to expand Medicaid under Obamacare in July 2016. Edwards defended the expansion as a way to reduce the number of those in Louisiana without health insurance. But a new report from the Pelican Institute, a New Orleans-based policy organization that promotes free-market principles, found as many as 35% of new enrollees under Edwards' Medicaid expansion already had health insurance. The study found thousands dropped their coverage to get in on the free health insurance they suddenly qualified for thanks to Edwards.

The Louisiana Department of Health disputes that figure, claiming only 2% of new Medicaid enrollees had previous coverage. 

The Pelican Institute's Chris Jacobs says LDH’s low number relies on a LSU survey of the state’s entire low-income population. But Jacobs says even LSU researchers admit the metric LDH is using is not the best way to determine what percent of new Medicaid enrollees previously had insurance.

Jacobs, through a public records request, unearthed some of LDH’s own internal numbers for the month of August 2017 showing 35 percent of Medicaid enrollees that month previously had insurance but dropped their coverage. Of the 13,955 individuals newly enrolled in Medicaid expansion in August 2017, 4,957 had dropped private coverage within the prior 30 days.

In 2015, the Legislative Fiscal Office projected this would happen. The office predicted the state would spend between $900 million and $1.3 billion over five years providing coverage to individuals who dropped their private insurance to get on Medicaid once qualifying standards were lowered through expansion.

The Pelican Institute claims taxpayers are now paying $461 million per year for Medicaid recipients who were previously paying for their insurance but dropped their coverage when Edward’s expanded the entitlement program.

Edwards often gloats about Medicaid expansion “saving lives and improving health outcomes for the working poor people of our state.”

But according to the Pelican Institute, Edwards’ Medicaid expansion does more than help the “working poor.” It also benefits those who are well off. The institute reports a disturbing 1,600 enrollees signing up under Edwards' Medicaid expansion did so despite having six-figure incomes.

“Individuals earning $100,000 or more while enrolling in Medicaid, combined with LDH’s failure to address the previously insured problem, point to the need for fundamental reform to Louisiana’s Medicaid program,” said Jacobs.

In addition to the scathing Pelican Institute report, three separate state Legislative Auditor’s Office investigations have discovered more than $100 million in widespread fraud involving Medicaid expansion.

Despite that, on Monday, the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs committee, by a 5-3 vote, rejected a bill allowing the Legislative Auditor access to more data involving potential Medicaid fraud. The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Tony Bacala, of Prairieville, would allow state auditors to cross-check income tax disclosure statements on state tax returns with Medicaid enrollees’ applications. The vote failed along party lines, with Republicans voting for the legislation and Democrats rejecting it.

“Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars likely are being spent on behalf of ineligible recipients,“ said Bacala.

It’s reasonable to assume Democrats killed legislation shedding more light on Medicaid fraud to save the governor embarrassment with a program he considers one of his signature achievements. Or maybe they’re hoping that creating new dependents will potentially lead to more voters.

Medicaid enrollment has far exceeded growth estimates since expansion. This monstrosity of a government program is expected to grow an additional 7.5% this year. Approximately 15,000 new people sign up for Medicaid in Louisiana each month at a cost to taxpayers of more than $6,000 per year per enrollee. It’s a giant government program spending billions deserving the highest of scrutiny and attention.

Email Dan Fagan at Twitter: @DanFaganShow.