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Louisiana plans to spend $196 million to check Medicaid enrollees’ status

The Louisiana State Capitol. March 2021.
Phoebe Jones
The Louisiana State Capitol. March 2021.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has proposed spending $195.8 million to reach out to Medicaid enrollees and check whether they meet the qualifications for the public health insurance program during a massive Medicaid disenrollment over the next year.

The state plans to spend $106.6 million of federal funding in the current budget cycle that ends June 30 to verify the income status of hundreds of thousands of Medicaid enrollees, according to budget documents. The process is expected to continue into the next fiscal year with a $89.2 million budget, made up of equal amounts of state and federal money.

The Louisiana Legislature’s staff said the state is preparing for 355,000 people to fall off Medicaid rolls over the next year. The Louisiana Department of Health’s estimate was slightly lower, with officials on Wednesday saying between 280,000 and 350,000 people will be taken out of Medicaid during that time period.

“No one’s district is not going to be affected by this,” Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said at a budget hearing Tuesday. “Some might be affected more than others, but everyone’s going to get phone calls. … This is going to be a focal point for a while.”

The federal government is ending COVID-19 protections in April that have kept millions of additional people across the country on Medicaid regardless of their income. It has given states financial incentives to let people stay on the public health insurance plan since 2020, but those benefits are coming to a close.

States must now sort through who still qualifies for Medicaid coverage over the next 12 months. Individuals are supposed to be culled from the rolls only if they make too much money to remain eligible.

Yet advocates fear low-income folks who still meet the requirements might also get booted from the program because they can’t produce the right paperwork on time.

In order to verify the income eligibility of Medicaid recipients, state health officials will be reaching out to every person enrolled in the program – a colossal undertaking in one of the country’s poorest states. Approximately 2 million people, 42% of the Louisiana residents, receive Medicaid benefits. The program has also grown by 442,000 people since the pause on disenrollment started three years ago.

About $66.4 million of the $106.6 million the state will spend on Medicaid verification over the next three months will go to hospitals, pharmacies and nonprofit organizations that can help connect Medicaid enrollees with the state health department.

Before July 1, the Edwards administration will also put $11 million into hiring more staff for the health department call center, Medicaid mail center and Medicaid eligibility unit. Existing state Medicaid eligibility staff will also receive $1.3 million in extra pay over the next three months.

The state also plans to spend $12.8 million before July 1 on a statewide promotional campaign that will include billboard, newspaper and radio advertising about the Medicaid enrollment process, according to budget documents.

In the current budget cycle, the health department has also budgeted $4.2 million for fliers, letters and stamps targeting Medicaid enrollees. Earlier this month, it sent a pink letter to more than 1 million households with Medicaid enrollees, asking those folks to update their contact information.

The $89.2 million the state will spend on Medicaid verification in its next budget cycle — which starts July 1 — will continue some of these efforts. The funding will also be used for a social media campaign , community canvassing and technology upgrades the state might need to improve its Medicaid-tracking, health department spokesman Kevin Litten said Tuesday.

The federal government is requiring robust outreach to Medicaid enrollees. States must attempt to reach each Medicaid recipient multiple times through different channels before removing them from the program. If they don’t, the states will put a large amount of their federal funding at risk.

A variety of people qualify for Medicaid, including those who are poor, disabled, pregnant or postpartum. Children whose parents may not be able to afford private health care coverage are also Medicaid recipients.

The income thresholds to enter Medicaid fluctuate, depending on the condition that allows a person to initially qualify.

For example, adults who qualify for Medicaid because they are low-income cannot make more than $3,192 per month for a family of four, but children in a family of four can still qualify for some Medicaid coverage if that household income is as high as $5,897 per month.

Children with disabilities in a family of four have an even higher income threshold and can be on Medicaid if the family makes up $6,938 per month, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.