Finally, more than two years after the program kicked off nationally, Louisiana officially started enrollment to expand Medicaid. The first person signed up on the state’s website, healthy.la.gov, at 8:05 a.m. Wednesday. The Department of Health and Hospitals has already been in contact with 175,000 residents the department believes will qualify.
DHH got permission this week from federal officials to use food stamp income eligibility to automatically qualify uninsured recipients for Medicaid.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration is smart to find ways to simplify the enrollment process. Louisianians were wrongly left out of the program for too long because former Gov. Bobby Jindal refused the extra federal money.
Tulane Medical School resident Sarah Candler told Gov. Edwards Wednesday that some of her patients were in tears when they learned they now would be covered.
“Many of them are newly eligible today, so that means patients I’ve wanted to prescribe certain medications to, I’ve wanted to get screening tests for and haven’t been able to do so … Today that changes,” she said.
A patient’s ability to get screening tests, better medications or preventive care could be life-changing. “At the end of the day … we’re going to improve health outcomes,” Gov. Edwards said at a kickoff event at University Medical Center.
The benefits promise to be tremendous. The expansion is expected to provide health care to a total of 375,000 uninsured Louisiana residents, one-third of them in New Orleans. Under the expansion, families can make up to 138 percent of the poverty level. An estimated 70 percent of people who will be added to the Medicaid rolls are working but have no insurance through their jobs and can’t afford to purchase it.
The state predicts it will save $184 million on health care in the first year alone. The federal government is paying 100 percent of the cost of the expansion through 2016 and the vast majority in future years.
There will be countless ripple effects as families stop having to worry about how to pay for health care. Ultimately, thousands of residents should be physically and financially healthier. And communities across Louisiana, especially ours, will benefit.
DHH’s goal is to get more than half of the 375,000 residents signed up by July 1, when coverage starts. That is an ambitious goal, but the food stamp waiver will help.
Ruth Kennedy, who is leading DHH’s expansion, said the department has prepared for months for this moment. “I am confident, and I am ready, and this is not my first rodeo,” she said.
Ms. Kennedy led the state’s successful implementation in the 1990s of LaCHIP, the Medicaid-funded children’s health program.
The LaCHIP process was streamlined to get thousands more children enrolled. Children who were eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program were automatically enrolled in Medicaid, which had the same eligibility requirements.
Louisiana’s push to get more low-income children covered by health insurance paid off. In 2003, a DHH survey found that 11.1 percent of Louisiana children were uninsured. By 2011, that number was down to 3.5 percent.
That approach should work now for the Medicaid expansion. “We don’t have to make an eligibility decision” for food stamp recipients, Ms. Kennedy said. Residents approved for food stamps only have to answer a few questions about their household.
In addition to online enrollment, DHH will have 204 Medicaid application sites across the state where people can sign up in person. One of those is at UMC in New Orleans.
“We want a better quality of life for our people. We want them to be happier, healthier, more productive people,” Gov. Edwards said Wednesday. Now, with a chance to get health coverage, they can be.