More than 200,000 added to Louisiana Medicaid rolls during pandemic 

The coronavirus pandemic and congressional response legislation have caused a spike in Louisiana’s Medicaid population, adding 208,000 people to the rolls over the last year.

Nearly 1.8 million people in Louisiana—about 39% of the state’s 4.6 million residents-–were receiving health coverage through Medicaid as of last month 

“We know very well when the economy goes south, the demand for public services increases,” says Jan Moller, head of the left-leaning Louisiana Budget Project, which advocates for low- to moderate-income families. “It’s perfectly understandable and rational that more people would qualify for coverage.”

A historic number of Louisiana residents lost their jobs this year, as the pandemic and government restrictions hammered employers. Moller noted thousands of people dropped out of the labor force entirely, many because they had to take care of children at home with schools closed or shifted online.

It’s also possible that healthy people who previously qualified for Medicaid because of their low incomes signed up because the pandemic highlighted the importance of health coverage.

Congress also has kept Louisiana’s Medicaid rolls inflated.

Federal legislation gave Louisiana and other states more Medicaid money by increasing the federal share for paying some Medicaid expenses. The change meant it cost Louisiana less to cover some Medicaid enrollees, saving the state about $283 million in the last budget year and $440 million in the current year, according to estimates. State lawmakers used much of the money to pay for other spending priorities.

In exchange for the windfall, Congress told states they can’t kick people off Medicaid during the pandemic, unless recipients move, die or request a voluntary termination of their coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Because of the congressional provision, Louisiana’s health department suspended a strict wage verification program it had enacted in the Medicaid program as Republicans pushed for tougher checks on the people receiving taxpayer-financed health benefits.

Tara LeBlanc, interim executive director of Medicaid at the state health department, said approximately 160,000 people currently being covered by Medicaid are ineligible. The agency is working with the federal government on how to end coverage for people once the federal public health emergency ends. LeBlanc estimated it will take about six months to catch up on all the reviews to determine who is ineligible. Read the full story.