New Census Data Confirms Medicaid Expansion is Crucial for Working Louisianans

by Steve Spires

New 2011 Census data gives another detailed picture of how Louisiana would benefit from expanding Medicaid to cover low-income adults, and shows yet again that health-care reform is a great opportunity to invest in Louisiana’s workforce.

Of the 330,000 uninsured Louisianans who could gain health coverage in 2014 if Medicaid is expanded, around 200,000 are working today, yet lack health insurance. Altogether, as many as 400,000 residents could gain Medicaid coverage beginning in 2014, most for the very first time. The largest impacts would be felt in sectors vital to the state’s economy like tourism, retail and construction. Expansion is good news for businesses as well as employees, as a healthier workforce is a more productive workforce.

This includes 46,000 uninsured workers in entertainment and tourism, nearly 28,900 retail employees, and 24,300 construction workers. Others who would benefit from Medicaid expansion—as many as 19,900 people—already work in the medical field helping to take care of others. Nearly 3,900 child care workers could gain coverage as well. Cooks, waiters and waitresses, grocery store clerks, barbers and hairdressers, landscapers and repairmen, nursing home aides and personal care attendants, hotel maids, and even musicians could all gain health coverage. And as many as 19,500 self-employed workers—including small-business owners who currently lack access to affordable health coverage—could also benefit.

If Medicaid expansion were in place today, it would offer coverage to as many as 54,000 adults who were recently working, but are now unemployed or have left the labor force. A significant share of these workers likely lost a job due to the 2007-09 recession and the slow recovery that followed. Louisiana’s unemployment rate more than doubled during the Great Recession, and the number of adults without health insurance increased by as much as 50,000 as workers saw reduced wages or fewer hours or lost the coverage they received through their employer. With Medicaid expansion, these workers and their families would have more health security during an economic downturn.

Others who would benefit from Medicaid expansion include the long-term unemployed and adults who decide to temporarily leave the labor force to further their education or take care of a family member. And some low-income workers who can barely afford their insurance, or receive inadequate coverage through their job, will also choose to enroll in more comprehensive and affordable Medicaid coverage.

They would be eligible because the federal law changes the income requirement to qualify for Medicaid. Anyone making less than 133 percent of the federal poverty line—around $14,850 a year for a single adult, or $25,390 for a family of three—would qualify for coverage under the new law. Louisiana currently has some of the strictest Medicaid eligibility requirements in the country. An adult with two kids making more than $2,860 cannot receive coverage, and adults without children can’t qualify at all.

From a state budget standpoint, Medicaid expansion is also a clear winner. Over the first decade, 93 percent of the costs of Medicaid expansion will be paid for with federal dollars. The federal government will pay for 100 percent of the cost for the first three years, with the state slowly chipping in after that, but never having to pay more than 10 percent of the cost. This influx of new health care dollars will provide a boost to Louisiana’s economy, as hospitals, doctors, pharmacies and other businesses would see new revenue and a growing customer base.

Together, these results confirm yet again that Medicaid expansion means more health security for working Louisianans and their families, and a stronger workforce and economy for Louisiana.

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