NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday that thousands of working individuals who cannot now afford health coverage will soon be able to apply for Medicaid coverage.
Soon after taking office, Edwards, a Democrat, made his first executive order the expansion of Medicaid eligibility, and starting June 1 the state will begin enrolling hundreds of thousands of people who otherwise would not qualify for government funded healthcare with an expected kickoff of the program on July 1.
Under the federal health reform law, states were urged to expand Medicaid to encompass more of the working poor. Edwards went before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee to tout what he sees as the benefits of expanding Medicaid eligibility.
"Expansion is also going to save lives," he said.
Secretary of Department of Health and Hospitals Dr. Rebekah Gee told the committee the maximum eligibility would be $16,242 for a single adult and $27,724 for a three-person household. Further, the department said for a family of four, it's about $32,300 and for a family of five, it's about $37,800.
The governor said accepting the federal funds to cover expansion Medicaid is a win-win for the state.
"Today we pay 40 percent of the costs for the uninsured, but with expansion we will never pay more than 10 percent, and in fact, through the end of 2016, the federal government's share is 100 percent," said the governor.
"Fiscally it's responsible. We have a $184 million in state general fund savings just in fiscal year 2017 that allows us to keep hospitals open, that allows us to keep services that we would otherwise have to cut," said Dr. Gee.
Former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal refused to accept the federal funds to expand Medicaid. Jindal and many other Republicans believe the state will be saddled with unmanageable costs down the road.
"In a few years it goes down to 90 percent. Now on top of that, you have to understand that the federal government can't control costs of any program. There will eventually be costs in everything - there will have to be," said Louis Gurvich, Jr., deputy chairmain of the Louisiana Republican Party.
He said that would make things worse across the state in terms of programs and services.
"You will see drastic and permanent cuts in education, roads and bridges, hospitals, every program that you can imagine is going to be at-risk," said Gurvich.
The governor tried to allay concerns of some Senate committee members.
"If we were worried about the federal government not meeting its obligations going forward and not opting into things where we can avail ourselves of our own tax dollars, we would stop participating in the highway funding, we would maybe get away from the traditional Medicaid program, as well," said to the governor to a lawmaker who raised a question about the state's future obligations.
Edwards and the head of DHH said thousands who work in the tourism industry will benefit from the expansion of Medicaid in Louisiana.
"About 70-percent of enrollees will be full-time employees in industries such as food service, tourism and construction, so when we talk about expanding healthcare coverage for the working poor that's exactly what this does, these people work," said Edwards.
"We're talking a predominantly about working people in our state, working people who have fallen through the gap, people who I've seen in my own clinic who have to pay for their care, and wait and delay care and then have cancers recognized later than they could have otherwise been and are sicker than they would have otherwise been than if they had had preventive care," said Gee.
The gap refers to individuals who made too much money to qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage, and not enough to be eligible to purchase health coverage through the federal government's marketplace, healthcare.gov.
The governor and his staff said lining up with the federal health reform law will save the state $677 million over five years and more than a billion over a decade.