NO.edwardsbgr.111418.cg119

Governor John Bel Edwards speaks at a BGR Breakfast Briefing in New Orleans on Tuesday, November 13, 2018.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration wasted at least $62 million of taxpayer money to boost his reelection chances. And that’s just the beginning of accounting for the extra burden Medicaid expansion has put on Louisianans.

That dismal number comes courtesy of a Legislative Auditor report on inappropriate payouts due to expansion. A random sample of single-household recipients shockingly revealed that from mid-2016 to earlier this year, 82 percent didn’t qualify to receive about half of their paid benefits. Even more stunning, a subsample of individuals reporting income higher than what would have made them eligible showed 93 percent received about two-thirds of their benefits inappropriately.

Audit: Louisiana may have misspent $85M in Medicaid program

Extrapolated to the program’s entire single individual clientele, the waste comes to between $62-$85 million. And this doesn’t even include non-single households, which comprise over half of total clients, meaning those figures easily could be more than doubled.

Not that the Edwards Administration didn’t know this was coming. Upon implementing expansion, it relaxed eligibility verification requirements used by many states put in place only months earlier by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was concerned about an unacceptable error rate. Further, it automatically accepted into expansion Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program enrollees, thereby baking in that program’s 6.3 percent rate of illegal participants that increased improper Medicaid payments by millions more.

This pell-mell rush to offer free health care without adequate checking came by design to serve Edwards’ political fortunes. The more goodies he could take credit for doling out, the more support he could build for next year’s election.

Never mind the enormous costs that expansion foisted upon the citizenry, beginning with tax increases on the sick and insured that take over $200 million annually from the people. Keep in mind every time an administration mandarin bleats that expansion “saved” the state money, subtracting this figure uncovers the truth that it hasn’t.

Even issuance of a flawed study paid for by the state alleging it reaped $103 million above costs from expansion in the first year can’t put lipstick on this pig. Not only did the study disregard state tax revenues lost from expansion’s extracting these tax hikes out of the state economy, as well as the federal tax dollars taken from Louisianans to pay for it, but the study also overestimated considerably the amount of federal money expansion imported as it poached dollars when new clients dropped their existing exchange policies subsidized with federal dollars.

Health Secretary remains lightning rod for critics of Edwards administration

Plus, taking the study numbers at face value, in 2021 when the state’s contribution rate will have quadrupled compared to the figure used in the study, by its own calculation Louisiana will be in the hole $90 million.

Of course, this assumes expansion clients can receive health care. A survey of health care provision earlier this year showed that the proportion of people delaying health care because they couldn’t get an appointment rose from 2 percent in 2015 to a staggering 28 percent – undoubtedly due to expansion straining a shrinking pool of Medicaid providers.

That was exacerbated by hordes of people previously insured cancelling their privately paid insurance to hook up with free Medicaid. The survey’s data suggests that 47 percent of the increase in Medicaid clients came from these individuals, which would translate into an extra state taxpayer expense of $402 million yearly – but well worth it to Edwards for the tens of thousands of extra votes this might buy him.

Louisianans – at least those paying for their own health insurance who suffered a 46 percent increase in their average premium from 2015 through this year – may see it differently.

Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com and writes about Louisiana legislation at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email jeffsadowtheadvocate@yahoo.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer