AP Wire

Medicaid expansion reaches 250K in La.

by Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion program, which began offering health insurance coverage this month largely to the working poor, has enrolled 250,000 people.

The Department of Health announced the latest figures Friday, saying 2,500 people per day on average have signed up for coverage since enrollment opened in June. Health Secretary Rebekah Gee praised the numbers saying those families “can sleep more soundly at night knowing their loved ones have coverage.”

But more people need to enter the program to reach the $184 million in savings assumed in the financial year that began July 1. The state’s budget estimates 375,000 will eventually be enrolled this year, helping the state take advantage of enhanced federal financing rates for health services Louisiana currently provides for the poor and uninsured.

“While these numbers reflect a remarkable achievement that we are very proud of, our work is far from finished. Over 100,000 newly eligible adults still need to be identified, informed and enrolled to reach our goal of 375,000 enrollees this year,” Ruth Kennedy, Medicaid expansion project director for the health department, said in a statement.

Louisiana is the first state in the Deep South — and the 31st state nationwide — to expand its Medicaid program under the health law championed by President Barack Obama. Gov. John Bel Edwards pushed expansion during his campaign and moved to quickly enact it after taking office in January. Coverage began July 1.

Adults ages 19 to 64 with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $16,400 for a single adult or $33,500 for a family of four — are eligible for the coverage through one of Louisiana’s Medicaid plans administered by managed-care companies.

Enrollment for 185,000 people was fast-tracked by shifting them from existing health programs that had less coverage and fewer benefits, including thousands in the New Orleans area served through a community clinic program started after Hurricane Katrina. In addition, Louisiana received federal approval to use information collected from food stamp applicants to determine eligibility for the Medicaid expansion coverage, helping speed enrollment.

The federal government is picking up the full cost of the Medicaid expansion health services through 2016. After that, Louisiana will pay a share that eventually increases to 10 percent.