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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Louisiana enrolling thousands of people into expanded Medicaid program

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 5:00 PM

click to enlarge Gov. John Bel Edwards, right, speaks to the Buteaux family at University Medical Center in New Orleans to announce the state's expansion of the Medicaid program.
  • Gov. John Bel Edwards, right, speaks to the Buteaux family at University Medical Center in New Orleans to announce the state's expansion of the Medicaid program.

Thousands of people in Louisiana are eligible for health care coverage following Gov. John Bel Edwards' health care expansion to the state's working poor. Edwards signed the executive order expanding Medicaid coverage on January 12, his first full day of office. Enrollment is now open and coverage begins July 1. The state now is working to get 375,000 people enrolled — Edwards and Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Rebekah Gee say more than 175,000 people already are enrolled.

The program under the Affordable Care Act covers people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (roughly $16,200 for a single adult, $33,400 for a family of four). Edwards says the expansion — blocked by former Gov. Bobby Jindal and legislators in previous years — will save the state millions of dollars, including more than $180 million budgeted in the fiscal year beginning next month. The feds fully fund the program through 2016.

People can apply via healthy.la.gov or by calling (888) 342-6207. Enrollment in the state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) also can be used to determine Medicaid eligibility, which officials say will help speed up the process of getting people signed on to the program. A list of enrollment sites can be found here.
click to enlarge Edwards, District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, state Rep. Gary Carter and DHH Secretary Rebekah Gee with UMC's Greg Hunt.
  • Edwards, District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, state Rep. Gary Carter and DHH Secretary Rebekah Gee with UMC's Greg Hunt.

The "Healthy Louisiana" program aims to catch people in the gap — people who made more than previous Medicaid income caps but not enough to afford coverage through the federal health care Marketplace. The Edwards administration said the state and taxpayers have paid 40 percent of health care for uninsured people, often relying on emergency rooms for care, at a cost of nearly $1 billion a year. Opening more people to coverage under Medicaid increases patient access to primary care providers and health clinics rather than ERs. The expansion "gets us out of that business and directs people to primary care," said Edwards, who kicked off enrollment efforts today at University Medical Center in New Orleans, where more than 100,000 people are eligible for coverage.

"All we had to do is bring our federal tax dollars here," Edwards said. "Ultimately, those things are really important ... but delivering better health outcomes for the people of Louisiana is most important."

Edwards said expanding health care through an executive order was his "easiest, biggest move" as governor: "What's hard about that decision?" He signed it "not because it was a rash decision" — he had worked in Legislature for three years to force expansion in the state. "This isn't about liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican," he said. "It's right vs. wrong, not right vs. left."

Stephen Holt, aka guitarist Red Priest, said finding coverage as a musician "was a no man's land for a long time." The expansion is "wonderful news for self-preservation."

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