Medicaid expansion saves the state money and creates jobs, and is popular with Louisiana residents. Louisiana is also a national leader in investigating Medicaid fraud, which typically involves providers, not patients. But opponents of the program continue to recycle some tired, misleading tropes about the health care program that provides coverage for more than 1.7 million Louisianans earning low incomes. State Rep. Rick Edmonds is the latest person to misrepresent the findings of a recent Medicaid audit to mislead the public. LBP’s Jan Moller, writing for the Advocate, responds:
Medicaid’s opponents blame patients, not providers, for problems they perceive in the program. Edmonds erroneously claims that a recent Medicaid audit used a “randomly selected” sample of applicants to determine that many of them did not qualify for coverage because they earned too much money. The reality is that the auditors only sampled cases in which recipients had been pre-identified as likely having excess earnings. More importantly, the problems identified in the audit have been addressed through a new eligibility system that makes more frequent checks to make sure the program only covers those who are eligible. Unlike the unscrupulous health care providers who rip off the program, patients who are covered by Medicaid despite earning too much do not receive any cash benefits. In most cases they are people who are poor, but not poor enough to qualify for coverage. All they got from the government was the ability to see a doctor when they get sick.
For more clarification on the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s recent review of Medicaid eligibility determinations, click here.
Senate committee rejects sales tax rework
Efforts to roll back the sales tax compromise of last year’s legislative session appear to be dead in the upper chamber of the Legislature, as the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee voted down a bill by Sen. Barrow Peacock that aimed to divert revenue from the state’s sales tax to the Transportation Trust fund. Critics of the proposal pointed out that while the measure would raise money for transportation, it would do so by creating shortfalls in other programs, most likely health care and education. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports on the vote, which kept the state from taking a step toward another fiscal cliff.
Opponents, including Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration, said lawmakers in the majority-Republican Legislature haggled over seven special sessions since 2016 about Louisiana’s budget gaps, before striking a seven-year tax deal that included the 0.45% sales tax at its center. They said it made no sense to tinker with that compromise. “We just fixed this less than a year ago,” said Sen. Gerald Boudreax, a Lafayette Democrat. He said to take the dollars from the general government operations would mean “we’d be right back in another fiscal cliff.” Democrats objected to the measure even after Sen. Eddie Lambert, a Gonzalez Republican, limited the scope of the proposal to redirect 0.15% of the sales tax to road and bridges, rather than the full 0.45%
Diapers and feminine hygiene products are necessities
The Senate’s tax-writing committee approved two bills by Sen. J.P. Morrell on Monday that would exempt diapers and feminie hygiene products from the state sales tax. Senate Bill 4 is a constitutional amendment and would require voters to approve of the exemption. Senate Bill 5 would allow local governments to exempt the products from local sales tax if the constitutional amendment is approved. As The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports, this would formally recognize that diapers and period products are not optional for those that use them, and should therefore have the same tax exemptions as other necessities like food and prescription drugs:
“It’s kind of offensive that we don’t tax Viagra, as a prescription, but we tax mothers when they buy tampons and diapers,” said New Orleans Democratic Sen. JP Morrell, who chairs the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs committee. “We’ve established in our state Constitution that we do not tax items that people need … If you need those items, you need those items.” Both bills now head to the Senate Finance Committee because of the cost associated with the exemptions. Morrell said he hadn’t yet talked to members of the Senate Finance Committee, which has killed the bill in the past because of its nearly $10 million price tag. “The last time we did this bill we were in a deficit. Now we are not,” he said.
Student loan debt could cost you your job
A decade of cuts to Louisiana colleges and universities has shifted the responsibility of financing higher education from the state to students and their families. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Louisiana’s borrowers now owe $20.4 billion in student loan debt, an increase of nearly $1.5 billion in just the past 12 months. But a quirk in Louisiana law penalizes some indebted professionals by taking away the occupational licenses that they need to work, and to earn money to pay down their debt. This means nurses, teachers and even physicians could be barred from their chosen profession because of student loan debt. Fortunately, State Rep. Julie Emerson has filed legislation, which was reported without objection by the House Commerce Committee earlier this morning, that aims to end this counterproductive practice. But as LBP’s Davanet Lewis explains, more work remains to be done.
With student indebtedness rising, Louisiana should invest more in need-based aid, adopt a Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights to prevent borrowers from being poorly served or misled by the companies that collect student loans, and require all colleges to adopt institutional strategies to help reduce the burden of student debt. At the very least, we should stop taking away the tools that people need to pay down their loans, as a punishment for falling behind in their payments. While the state’s current law was originally designed to hold borrowers accountable and prevent defaults, this policy has failed. If people cannot work in the profession they’ve trained for, how can we expect them to pay down the student loans that funded their training? The bottom line is that Louisiana should not be in the business of taking people’s jobs away because of failure to pay back student loans. House Bill 423 is a big step in the right direction.
Number of the Day
$20.4 billion – Amount Louisiana borrowers owe in student loan debt, an increase of nearly $1.5 billion in just the past 12 months. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York)