BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards marked the third anniversary of Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion program Wednesday by releasing a study showing people eligible for the coverage are seeing doctors more and using emergency rooms less.
The Democratic governor expanded Medicaid in July 2016. Nearly 500,000 people have enrolled in the program since then, and Edwards touts the coverage as he campaigns for a second term in office.
He spent Wednesday morning at St. Bernard Parish Hospital crediting expansion with helping rural hospitals avoid closure and improving health care for state residents, citing a new Tulane University study financed by his administration.
The study showed fewer people in Louisiana who are eligible for Medicaid expansion said they were unable to see a doctor in the last year, afford their prescribed medications or waited lengthy periods to get medical care. Emergency room visits by those who enrolled in Medicaid expansion fell, the study showed.
“These are real-life results to people in Louisiana, our brothers and sisters here,” Edwards said in Chalmette.
While the Tulane researchers found “generally positive effects” for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana, they raised one area of concern, about specialty care. The study said that more specialists are treating Medicaid patients since expansion, but that those rates declined recently and the average distance to access specialty care has increased.
Under Medicaid expansion, adults ages 19 to 64 with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $16,750 for a single adult or $28,680 for a family of three — are eligible for coverage. The federal government pays most of the cost. Louisiana is paying a share that reaches 10% in 2020, but lawmakers passed financing tools to help cover the state’s share, including a tax on health maintenance organizations.
Republican critics say expansion has grown Louisiana’s $13 billion Medicaid program to unsustainable levels, and they point to legislative audits showing ineligible people receiving coverage.
The Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, said its analysis shows tens of thousands of people have dropped private health insurance to enroll in Medicaid instead. The organization said that drives up taxpayer costs by hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for insurance coverage for people who didn’t need government-financed Medicaid.
The Louisiana Department of Health disputes the Pelican Institute’s numbers.