Louisiana officials will seek federal approval of a plan to expand access to health insurance for some of the state's more than 800,000 uninsured residents, despite the proposal receiving some criticism from national health experts.
Under the state's plan, public subsidies would be provided to help the working poor buy insurance and to encourage employers to offer coverage. Critics said such plans have not had good results in other states, and national health care experts had expressed reservations about Louisiana's plan.
State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Fred Cerise said a lot of work had been done in preparation of the filing for the special federal permission required to initiate the programs. He said officials decided it would be better to seek approval even if parts of the plan were never started.
Cerise said the health department will submit a draft plan to the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the next couple of weeks so it can revamp the proposal, if necessary, before formally filing the application.
About one person in five of Louisiana's 4.5 million residents has no health and medical coverage.
The state's proposed insurance plan has four parts. The costliest and most sweeping involves creating a $125 million new basic health insurance program for about 50,000 low-income working adults. While 70% of that would come from federal funds, Louisiana still would have to find about $36 million in state dollars to pay for it each year.
The other three parts of DHH's proposal would serve about 4,600 people. Those limited proposals would require $362,000 in state funds to draw down another $1.2 million in federal money.
The state budget for the current fiscal year contains funding for those three segments, which would start in April with the federal go-ahead, including a piece to make it more affordable for small employers to offer insurance through a public subsidy that would reduce the premium costs of a limited benefit policy.
The program, dubbed LaChoice, would initially be restricted to covering 3,000 low-income workers. Participating employers cannot have offered insurance in the last six months.
Commissioner of Insurance Robert Wooley said the employer subsidy is worth pursuing despite national experts' warnings of limited interest.
"The success of any of these programs that we do is you can't just pass them and hope they work. You have to go out and let people know about them. That's what our job is going to be," Wooley said. "We are used to going out and finding these kinds of people."