FILE - Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Rebekah Gee

Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Rebekah Gee

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt’s recent column attacking Louisiana’s Medicaid program is at best misleading and at worst an attempt to play politics with the health care of vulnerable children, parents, seniors and people with disabilities.

Louisiana’s Medicaid health insurance program ensures that 1.6 million low-income patients can get primary and preventive care rather than care in emergency rooms. Medicaid ensures that expecting mothers have access to prenatal care and that children get regular check-ups. It ensures aging adults get the care they need in their home or in a nursing facility.

More than 42,200 people in Sen. Hewitt’s district alone get health insurance through Medicaid. As with any program, the Department of Health is constantly working to improve while also providing services each day. This is why Gov. John Bel Edwards and I have worked tirelessly to ensure that every Medicaid dollar is wisely spent.

Gov. Edwards and I both know that a well-spent Medicaid dollar means a healthier Louisiana, a stronger work force, a more dynamic economy and much-needed certainty for our health care leaders to invest in good-paying jobs at hospitals and clinics across the state. Over the last four years, Medicaid’s staff has worked hand-in-hand with the legislative auditor’s staff and the Attorney General’s Office to identify the rare cases of misuse or fraud in the program.

In her column, Sen. Hewitt claimed there were political motivations in the selection of our new Medicaid insurance plans. In reality, Sen. Hewitt was involved in the selection process that began in early 2018. She was part of the legislative working group that provided input on the new criteria for contracts that were designed to save the state money in the future and make certain that Medicaid recipients would have improved health outcomes.

This procurement process was required because the current contracts expire at the end of this year. The state is required by law to open up selection every 3 to 5 years and the current contracts could not be extended any further except in an emergency. The successful bidders were chosen through a competitive state procurement process designed to build a managed care delivery system that provides better health and better care at lower costs. The scoring of the bids was done by an independent review committee without input from politicians or political appointees. The department has been transparent about the scoring and in fact has made the scoring documents publicly available. Sen. Hewitt is aware of these facts.

Sen. Hewitt also claims LDH did not plan or prepare for the implementation of the Medicaid expansion. She was in office before, during and after the state implemented Medicaid expansion, and she should know that there were nearly six months between when Gov. Edwards signed the executive order adopting Medicaid expansion and when enrollment began. Our Medicaid expansion implementation has been recognized nationally as one of the most seamless.

Finally, Sen. Hewitt references a report by the legislative auditor that has been roundly criticized by numerous national research organizations for its flawed methodology and misleading statistics. Although the audit found issues with the badly dated Medicaid eligibility system, Sen. Hewitt knows that we have replaced this system with a new modernized system that addresses most of these issues.

Replacing that system was a huge undertaking, and it is taking time for our eligibility workers and Medicaid enrollees to get over the learning curve that comes with using a new system. As a result, eligibility decisions are taking a bit longer than usual, and we are receiving more calls from enrollees with questions. Our decision to temporarily pause auto-closure was done to ensure that no one loses health insurance through no fault of his or her own.

I am extremely proud of the progress this administration has made when it comes to Medicaid expansion and improving access to health care. We are saving lives and have cut the state’s uninsured rate in half, while creating new jobs and economic growth in the process.

Rebekah Gee, MD, is secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health