By Allison St. Pierre
“It’s a whiz down the leg of every taxpayer in Louisiana.” - Senator John Neely Kennedy
Louisiana’s Junior Senator John Kennedy is known for his colloquialisms packaged perfectly in 30-second soundbites, making him a favorite of broadcast media. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, the University of Virginia Law School, and Oxford University in England, Kennedy seemingly ignores his education by regularly using colorful symbols such as mayonnaise, boiled owls, and weed killer when discussing the workings of government.
Kennedy’s description of a recent legislative audit of Louisiana’s newly expanded Medicaid program is particularly offensive to cancer survivors and others with serious chronic illnesses. The audit found as much as $85 million was spent on people whose income was higher than the law allowed. Governor John Bel Edwards’ administration had been working on revising a computer program for months to address issues with eligibility and received funding for the new program the same week as the audit’s results was announced. How often does THAT happen at ANY level of government: a problem is brought to light the same week that a long-planned solution to said problem is funded?
Kennedy attacked the audit’s results as being an such an insult to Louisiana taxpayers that it was akin to someone urinating on them! He said the report was breathtaking, stunning. And he once again called for the resignation of Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee.
It’s not the first time Medicaid expansion in Louisiana has been attacked by Kennedy, a pro-life conservative and frequent critic of Gee and Edwards.
Let’s look at Medicaid in Louisiana, who is covered, and how it has improved health outcomes for Louisiana residents.
Nearly 43% of Louisiana’s 4 million residents now receive Medicaid, a total of 1.7 million people...that’s equivalent to roughly the crowd if you had 17 LSU Tiger Stadiums filled to capacity on a fall Saturday night!
Medicaid was officially expanded on July 1, 2016, through the federal program offering states additional funding to provide health insurance to more people. Those newly eligible had incomes of up to 138% of the FPL (Federal Poverty Level). In 2018 dollars, that’s only $16,800 annual for a single household and $34,700 for a family of four. Overall, Medicaid in Louisiana now provides health coverage for 20% of all adults ages 19-64, 50% of all children, and 75% of all nursing home residents. Of the 20% of Louisiana adults who received Medicaid, 52% of them are employed.
There’s roughly a 70% to 30% split on coverage of “healthy” adults and children and the elderly and disabled. But it flips in the opposite direction when it comes to expenditures. In other words, the elderly and disabled only comprise about 30% of those enrolled, but account for nearly 70% of all Medicaid expenditures.
The Louisiana Department of Health keeps track of several health measures resulting from Medicaid expansion via its online Healthy Louisiana Dashboard. (http://www.ldh.la.gov/healthyladashboard/) As of early November, over 480,000 Louisiana residents now have health insurance through Medicaid expansion. Of that number, nearly 1,000 have been diagnosed with cancer, over 10,000 with diabetes, and nearly 30,000 with hypertension. The numbers are certainly impressive, but it’s important to remember that the numbers represent people and families. Here’s what healthcare coverage means to just a few of them:
These people did not have health insurance before Gov. Edwards issued the executive order to expand Medicaid. Over 31,000 of our fellow Louisiana residents have been diagnosed with major illnesses, some fatal, and are now getting treatments for them. Thousands more have access to preventive care.
Providing life-saving and preventive care for over thousands of Louisianans….that’s pro-LIFE isn’t it?
Yet, Medicaid and its expansion are the ongoing target of Louisiana Republicans, the so-called pro-life party. In the 2018 session of the Louisiana legislature, GOP legislators refused to raise taxes to fund the budget and called for more cuts to health care and higher education to meet the budget shortfalls. They criticized the Louisiana Department of Health for sending out letters to thousands of elderly nursing home residents whose state funding would be cut by as much as 75% if the budget passed without proper funding. (The letters were sent according to departmental notification procedures.) There were three special sessions of the legislature this year, each one costing taxpayers about $1 million, and in the end, there was a bi-partisan agreement to … raise sales taxes 0.45 percent over seven years.
As illustrated by the recent legislative auditor announcement, it appears Louisiana Republicans will continue to attack a program with a proven track record of providing life giving healthcare for nearly 2 million Louisiana residents. Senator Kennedy has said polls indicate he and Steve Scalise are the only potential GOP candidates who could beat John Bell Edwards and will announce a run for governor by December 1.
Louisiana Republicans do indeed have their sights set on retaking the Governor’s mansion in 2019 and then will likely rollback the advances made to Medicaid and other health programs. Isn’t that ironic for the party who claims to be pro-life?
Allison St. Pierre is a retired corporate communications specialist for a Fortune 500 company and a breast cancer survivor. A former registered Republican after 35 years, she is now a Democratic political activist and a freelance writer.