Medicaid expansion in Louisiana has been a major topic of discussion throughout Gov. John Bel Edwards’ time in office. There have been arguments over who foots the bill for expansion, the need for “emergency managed care organizations (MCO) contracts” and what Medicaid expansion even means. Media across the state have covered these debates as partisan issues, typically pitting the governor against political rivals.

A question that I and many of my colleagues in the Senate have continually raised since the beginning of these conversations has remained unanswered by both the governor and media members: “Is Medicaid expansion a wise use of Louisiana tax dollars?”

Earlier this year, I put forth legislation to answer this question. It requires the state to report how many able-bodied citizens are enrolling each month, how much it costs to cover them and how those taxpayer funds are being utilized.

Seema Verma

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2017 file photo, Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, speaks during a news conference in Newark, N.J. The Trump administration says it's offering a path for states that want to seek work requirements for Medicaid recipients, and that's a major policy shift toward low-income people. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) ORG XMIT: WX102

Well, the numbers are in, and the results are disappointing. Louisiana pays $500 per person enrolled in Medicaid every month, and according to the data, one-third of those able-bodied Louisianans enrolled reported earning absolutely zero income. It seems that every time we turn around there is another news story about medical insurance premiums increasing for hard working citizens across the country. These are taxpayers, who go to work every day and contribute greatly to our economy and society. How is it fair to them to dedicate their hard earned tax dollars to people that have no interest in seeking employment?

To add insult to injury, the data also shows an average of less than 17 percent of those enrolled are actually using the physician services provided through expansion. This means the state is paying out $500 per person enrolled regardless of if they use the service or not, and according to the numbers, most are not. Meanwhile, MCOs are receiving millions in payments from the state every month to make services available that nobody is using.

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Now is the time for the governor to show some leadership and support the bill I introduced last spring to enact work requirements for these able-bodied citizens to continue receiving Medicaid benefits. Providing citizens with additional education or training they need to secure a job can lift them out of poverty and onto a path to improved health outcomes. The ultimate measure of our compassion should not be how many people we can enroll in Medicaid, but how many able-bodied people we help to get off of Medicaid, redirecting our dollars to help those disabled citizens who truly need our assistance.

Governors in states across the country have proposed similar Medicaid work requirement programs as I have recommended. Louisiana must not be the last state to enact these much-needed reforms.

Sharon Hewitt

state senator