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Edwards' expansion trick invites costly fraud

Such is his eagerness to impose upon Louisianans a program that costs too much and delivers badly that Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to expedite Medicaid expansion by grabbing eligibility data from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That shortcut only would compound the mistake.

While his administration plans on this and other tactics to try to get people into the system for a Jul. 1 start, it also touts this move as a way to launch expansion more quickly and more cheaply, as in Louisiana SNAP qualifiers not already part of Medicaid theoretically also meet the same test standards to receive its expanded version. However, to do so risks wasting taxpayer dollars beyond the inherent characteristics of the program and population it serves, because of the error rate involved with SNAP dollars.

Misleadingly, the Pres. Barack Obama Administration tries to create the impression that improper payments amount to just 1.3 percent of the total. Yet it derives that figure not from a calculation of eligibility, but from the vendor fraud rate without explaining why it equates the two very different things – the former assesses whether the actual users of SNAP benefits should qualify legally, while the latter looks at stores’ illegal sale of SNAP benefits for cash or other ineligible items. In fact, as detailed in a General Accounting Office report, the federal government really has no idea of the fraud rate from benefits going to ineligible people, but evidence suggests that to be at least triple the erroneously-cited figure.

Worse, the Obama Administration relaxation of SNAP requirements allowed in a recipient population harder to verify as actually qualifying. By adoption of the strategy of using SNAP as a proxy for expanded Medicaid qualification, Louisiana imports this defect as well.

The Edwards Administration estimates it can capture 100,000 new enrollees this way, implying around 4,000 would come into the program fraudulently. As almost all of these would be adults, if they adhere to the average cost per adult client for Louisiana this will cost taxpayers an additional nearly $17 million annually. That imposes yet another expense obscured by the Administration that alleges large programmatic “savings” for the state through expansion – but only by using dubious numbers and assumptions.

The state wishes to use a fast track procedure with the federal government to commence this part of its enrollment, a first among the states. Given the Obama Administration’s desire to increase dependency through wealth redistribution as a means to empower government, it seems unlikely to turn down Louisiana’s unwise request. But given that the Edwards Administration shares this motivation that has driven the idea of Medicaid expansion from the start and overriding good sense, the rottenness of the deal from the start means this request becomes just another mistake for which Louisianans ultimately will have to pay.

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