Since Medicaid was expanded in Louisiana under the Affordable Care Act last July, more than 408,000 Louisianans have gained access to medical care, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards. That’s just one of many big, positive numbers the Democratic governor is touting at a time when the future of the ACA is in doubt and funding—both at the federal and state levels—is in limbo.
Though champions of Medicaid expansion like the governor could cheer the failure of House Republicans to move an ACA repeal and replace plan forward in late March, there’s no question that significant changes to the act—and possible outright abolishment—are on the horizon. Meanwhile, supporters such as the Louisiana Association of Health Plans worry the program could take a funding hit in the legislative session that began on April 10.
“From a budget standpoint, that is going to be the most critical factor as we go into the next legislative session. … Because the governor and the Legislature said there will be no new taxes, the only way to balance the budget then is to offset with cuts or just find a way to do things differently,” says Jeff Drozda, CEO of LAHP, the state trade association for Louisiana’s health benefits industry.
With lawmakers facing an estimated $400 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, cuts are going to have to be made somewhere in the budget, and health care spending is always at risk. If Healthy Louisiana—as the state’s program for Medicaid and LaCHIP recipients is known (formerly called Bayou Health until it was rebranded by the Edwards administration about a year ago)—loses any funding, Drozda says a few areas will likely suffer.
“It would come in terms of services to the Healthy Louisiana recipients and as well as decreased incentive payments and quality payments to the physicians,” he says. “We’ve committed to the governor and to the health secretary that we want to be part of the solution, so we just hope that it does not have to come to cutting services or provider payments.”
In an effort to advocate for Healthy Louisiana and stave off cuts during the session, LAHP has launched an outreach effort highlighting the human and community impact it has in the state. The governor, meanwhile, is encouraging Louisianans to share personal stories about how their lives have been positively impacted by the Medicaid expansion via his website. The governor and state Department of Health also say $184 million has been saved by the Medicaid expansion—money that Edwards contends will help fund education, the TOPS college scholarship program and partner hospitals across the state.
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