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.

As vice chair of the Louisiana Senate Health and Welfare Committee, I know there is always room for improvement in our state’s Medicaid program. That is why the Louisiana Department of Health, in partnership with the Legislature, is always striving to make Medicaid a more efficient and cost-effective program, while ensuring the most vulnerable in our state have access to health care.

Letters: Time to ask tough questions about Louisiana Medicaid

In a recent letter to the editor, “Time to ask tough questions about Louisiana Medicaid,” a fellow state lawmaker attempts to misconstrue the facts about Medicaid’s current state.

Here are the facts. First, LDH has been very transparent about Medicaid expansion since it was implemented in 2016 to provide health care coverage for the working poor. LDH maintains a public website updated monthly about Medicaid enrollment and patients’ use of health care services, available at http://www.ldh.la.gov/HealthyLaDashboard.

For legislators, LDH provides a monthly report with information about enrollment and current spending levels. The most recent report shows a decline in the number of Medicaid enrollees — no surprise to anyone reading the news. Several months ago, LDH launched a new, state-of-the-art eligibility system it had been working toward for years. LDH can check Medicaid enrollees’ wages every three months and disenroll those who appear to be earning over the income limit. State and local news outlets have closely followed the resulting drop in Medicaid enrollment.

The author uses her letter to insult those who receive Medicaid by suggesting they are not working or that they are cheating the program. The reality is Medicaid serves working poor who simply can’t afford or aren’t offered private coverage.

She also provides an inaccurate assertion that uncompensated care costs in Louisiana have increased following expansion. The reality is that uncompensated care costs as a share of total operating expenses for general medical and surgical hospitals in Louisiana declined, compared to similar hospitals in non-expansion states. This contrasts with non-expansion states who have seen these costs increase.

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Finally, the writer cites a biased report that makes claims about individuals dropping their private insurance to join Medicaid. The report she cites does not match LSU researchers’ findings analysis, which found that the only significant drop in private coverage was among those who were paying costly COBRA premiums following a job loss. It should come as no surprise that many in this difficult financial situation would choose to switch to Medicaid coverage.

The reality is Medicaid expansion in Louisiana has been a great success — strengthening our economy, creating jobs and saving lives. These facts are inconvenient for those who are simply opposed to health care coverage for the working poor.

Regina Barrow

state senator

Baton Rouge