Louisiana maintains status quo as other states benefit from Medicaid expansion

By Steve Spires

One in six Louisianans—16.6 percent—went without health coverage last year, a rate that’s statistically unchanged from 2012. New data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 751,000 Louisianans had no health insurance in 2013, which represents a drop of only 9,000 from 2012.

Nationally, 13.4 percent of the population—or 42 million Americans—lacked health coverage last year. Louisiana has the 11th lowest rate of health insurance coverage last year, down from 12th lowest the previous year.

When it comes to covering children, Louisiana continues to outpace the nation. Only 5.7 percent of Louisiana children were uninsured in 2013, compared to 7.3 percent nationally. That’s mostly due to Louisiana’s success in providing Medicaid coverage through the LaCHIP program. Unfortunately, Medicaid eligibility for adults is very stringent, which contributes to Louisiana’s rate of 24 percent of 19 to 64 year-olds without health coverage.

Today’s data from the American Community Survey (ACS)—the definitive source for state-level estimates of health coverage—gives a final overview at what the health insurance landscape looked like before the Affordable Care Act went into full effect in January 2014. Data from next year’s 2014 survey will show the impact of the law’s coverage expansion.

But data released today from another government survey, the Center for Disease Control’s National Health Insurance Survey (NHIS), shows that health care reform is already working to improve health coverage rates. The survey found that 3.8 million more Americans were insured in the first quarter (January-March) of 2014 compared to 2013, an 8 percent improvement. More significantly, the data shows greater coverage gains among adults in states that have embraced Medicaid expansion.

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Numerous private surveys have also found that health reform has helped millions of Americans gain coverage and significantly cut the number of people who are uninsured through the first half of 2014. Not surprisingly, states that have embraced reform and expanded Medicaid to the working poor have seen the greatest gains, while states like Louisiana that have maintained the status quo have seen much less progress.

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Past experience proves that Medicaid expansions work. In the late 1990s, Louisiana embraced expanding coverage for children and has since become a national leader in that arena, cutting the share of uninsured children from 1 in 5 to around 1 in 20 in a decade—a major policy success that this year’s data confirms once again.

Louisiana policymakers have an opportunity to pursue similar gains for low-income adults, but have rejected the opportunity to use billions in available grant funding to expand Medicaid coverage. As a result, 250,000 Louisianans lack access to affordable coverage.

LBP will provide further analysis when more detailed American Community Survey data on health insurance, including coverage rates by race, income and geography, is released on Thursday.

Monica Bergeron contributed to this report.

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