At New Orleans East town hall, panelists defend Medicaid expansion, oppose Senate health care bill_lowres

Paneilsts Nick Albares, Dawn Hebert, Dr. Keith Winfrey and Cyndi Nguyen lauded the 2016 expansion of Louisiana's Medicaid program.

Opponents of the Medicaid program seem to have a hard time accepting the good news about health care in Louisiana, where more people now have coverage than ever before and lives are being saved as a result.

The latest claims come from state Rep. Rick Edmonds, who recycles some tired, misleading tropes about the health care program that provides coverage for more than 1.7 million vulnerable Louisianans. Here are the facts about Medicaid — and the expansion of the program that has allowed more than 480,000 of our fellow citizens get covered:

● Medicaid expansion is widely popular. Expansion is supported by 76 percent of Louisianans, according to the 2019 Louisiana Survey. That includes 73 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans.

● Medicaid expansion is saving us money. There are more federal health care dollars coming to Louisiana, which is reducing the need for state dollars. The Louisiana Department of Health gets less money from the state general fund today than in 2015-16, the year before the program was expanded.

● Expansion has created 19,000 new Louisiana jobs and $1.85 billion in direct economic impact.

● Louisiana does a better job than most states to keep Medicaid providers honest. As Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office notes, “Since 1978, Louisiana’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit has been recognized as a national leader in investigation of fraud and nursing home abuse.”

● When fraud does happen, it typically involves health care providers who bill the government for services they didn’t provide, or who bill for more expensive services than the ones provided.

Still, Medicaid’s opponents blame patients, not providers, for problems they perceive in the program. Edmonds erroneously claims that a recent Medicaid audit used a “randomly selected” sample of applicants to determine that many of them did not qualify for coverage because they earned too much money. The reality is that the auditors only sampled cases in which recipients had been pre-identified as likely having excess earnings. More importantly, the problems identified in the audit have been addressed through a new eligibility system that makes more frequent checks to make sure the program only covers those who are eligible.

Unlike the unscrupulous health care providers who rip off the program, patients who are covered by Medicaid despite earning too much do not receive any cash benefits. In most cases they are people who are poor, but not poor enough to qualify for coverage. All they got from the government was the ability to see a doctor when they get sick.

Jan Moller

executive director, Louisiana Budget Project

Baton Rouge