Taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars following state gaffe
BATON ROUGE - Nearly 75,000 of the state's low-income citizens were left on Medicaid despite an automated system the Department of Health has in place that should have booted them out.
The citizens either did not turn in their paperwork on time to renew their Medicaid benefits or they sent them in and the Department of Health neglected to process the paperwork.
The Medicaid recipients affected came up for renewal during the months of July and August of 2019. State Representative Tony Bacala believes taxpayer money is being wasted.
"Everyone in government has a fiduciary responsibility to make sure tax dollars sent to us are properly spent," Bacala said. "This quite frankly is a failure."
The auto closure system that was implemented by the state is supposed to automatically take people out who don't meet requirements. Submitting their paperwork on time is one of them. But the state chose to continue paying Medicaid benefits for those citizens until they can get things straight. That's because it did not have enough employees to sort through all the paperwork that came in, despite the fact that the state has a list of all the citizens on Medicaid and when they are eligible for renewals.
"For every one month someone is on the rolls but ineligible we are throwing away $600 per month," Bacala said. "We are wasting it, misspending it. To put that in perspective, how many of us would continue to pay a $600 car note for a car we no longer own. That's the equivalent of what we are talking about."
That means taxpayers are left spending close to $45 million over a two-month window just to keep citizens on a program that they may not need to be on. To give you an idea of just how much money that is, you could purchase 450 brand new, fully-equipped school buses during that same time.
"Teachers are fighting for $1,000 a month in a raise, while we are wasting 10 times that amount in a program because of a lack of oversight," Bacala said. "Let's put it into perspective."
The WBRZ Investigative Unit brought those concerns to the Department of Health Friday.
All morning, the Department of Health promised an on-camera interview. We waited and waited. About an hour before our deadline, LDH texted saying there would be no interview, and it would send a statement instead.
Information provided to WBRZ shows LDH has claimed the inundation of work, high call volumes and a large workload exceeded the agency's capacity to timely process the 75,000 people who were supposed to be booted out. They also claim those who are carried over are the population's most vulnerable: pregnant women, children and the elderly.
"I sympathize with their position," Bacala said. "You don't want to remove someone who is elderly or disabled or improperly remove them because maybe they didn't turn in their paperwork. You have to be careful with this. If they couldn't do it in June or July, what were they doing in January, February, March, April and May, and every year before this time?"
With hard-earned money hemorrhaging due to a lack of being able to process information on time, some believe the public should be demanding better.
"Taxpayers should have an expectation that their tax dollars are going to be spent properly in Baton Rouge," Bacala said. "You won't be at 100 percent, but when there is such a failure to accomplish your core duty by a state agency we should all stand up and be very concerned and say this is not acceptable. It's not acceptable."
The State Legislative Auditor told WBRZ it is aware of this situation and is looking into it.
Late Friday, LDH issued a statement from Dr. Rebekah Gee, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health.
"The Louisiana Department of Health has temporarily suspended auto-closures for 67,000 people up for their annual renewals; 74% are children and families and the remainder are adults. These people are eligible until it is determined otherwise. LDH took this action to allow time to process a large volume of responses to renewal letters and accurately determine eligibility. When LDH determines an individual is not eligible, it is our practice to end that person's coverage. Additionally, in all other circumstances including quarterly wage checks the use of auto closures continues. For example, when a wage check reveals an individual makes more than the program allows, coverage for that person ends."