Edwards Delays Hearing On Medicaid Expansion Hiring Plan

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards' plan to hire new health department workers to work on his Medicaid expansion effort was pulled Friday from legislative consideration as the new governor's administration works to sell Republicans on the idea.

         The Department of Health and Hospitals wants to add 248 new employees to handle enrollment of the thousands of people expected to qualify for Medicaid under an eligibility expansion.

         The joint House and Senate budget committee was scheduled to consider the hiring plan at its first meeting since Edwards took office earlier this month. The vote, from the majority Republican committee, was expected to be the first test of whether GOP lawmakers will try to create roadblocks for the Democratic governor's expansion plan.

         But instead, the item was removed from the agenda.

         Edwards' chief financial adviser, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, said Friday morning the request was delayed because the administration didn't have enough time to speak with individual committee members about the details of the hiring plan.

         The House's committee members weren't named until late Thursday, fewer than 24 hours before the meeting.

         "We want to have a little more time to explain everything and make sure everybody understands everything," Dardenne said.

         The new workers would cost $10.3 million this budget year for salaries, benefits, training and equipment, according to information provided to the committee, with $7.3 million paid by the federal government.

         The remaining $3 million price tag, under the Edwards administration proposal, would be paid by health care providers, like hospitals and clinics, who would have the health department employees working on site at their facilities to enroll patients at the places they seek care.

         Federal officials signed off on the staffing proposal Thursday, Dardenne said. The federal Medicaid agency has approved it in other places like South Carolina, though Louisiana hasn't previously used the method.

         Quick approval — and hiring of the enrollment workers — will help determine whether Edwards can achieve what he admits is an aggressive timeline, of having government-funded health insurance cards in more people's hands by July 1.

         Medicaid expansion is allowed under President Barack Obama's federal health law, but former Gov. Bobby Jindal and Republican state lawmakers previously blocked Louisiana from participating. Jindal opposed it as too costly for the state and an inappropriate growth of government spending.

         But Edwards made Medicaid expansion a key campaign pledge, saying the state should accept the billions of dollars in federal funding available to provide the insurance coverage, calling it the right moral and financial choice. He issued an executive order starting the process for expanding Medicaid on his second day as governor.

         The Edwards administration estimates that more than 300,000 additional people, mainly the working poor, will be added to Louisiana's Medicaid program under the expansion, which covers adults making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $33,400 for a family of four.

         Under the governor's plan, Louisiana will join 30 other states that have undertaken Medicaid expansions, including several overseen by Republicans.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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