Sunday, February 25, 2024

Bill advances that would use tax data to tighten Medicaid eligibility checks

by BIZ. Staff

By Lauren Heffker, LSU Manship School News Service 

BATON ROUGE — A House committee voted Monday to approve a bill that would give Louisiana’s legislative auditor access to taxpayer data to verify Medicaid eligibility.

The bill, part of a Republican effort to tighten management of the program, advanced 11-3 to the full House.

Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, sponsored the bill. A similar proposal died in committee last year.

This year’s bill would give the state auditor access to income tax data to help detect fraud in Medicaid enrollment. Similar legislation exists in 35 states. 

At the heart of the partisan debate are arguments about citizens’ information privacy and state government oversight of social welfare programs. 

Edwards, a Democrat, has stressed the importance of keeping the federally funded Medicaid Expansion program, which provides health insurance for low income residents. 

Republicans and the legislative auditor have attacked the health department’s management of the program. The department recently kicked 30,000 people off the rolls, saying that some of them earned over $100,000 a year. 

“We found thousands of people that make between $50,000 to $80,000,” Bacala said. “We’re not taking from the poor. We’re taking people off the rolls who have been stealing from the poor.” 

“If we don’t have integrity in these programs, how do you go back to your taxpayer base and say, ‘we are being good stewards of your money’?’” he asked.

Linda Hawkins, the healthcare program chair at the League of Women Voters of Louisiana, spoke in opposition of the bill. 

“A chilling effect may be felt across the state, setting up more barriers to access to care,” Hawkins said. 

Hawkins said the bill is a misuse of private information and an example of government overreach.

The League of Women Voters of Louisiana is a nonpartisan political organization that aims to educate voters on public policy issues.

While the House Appropriations Committee advanced a $30 billion state operating budget on Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee deferred proposals to repeal or reduce a 0.45-cent sales tax extension that was passed last year.

The budget approved by the Appropriations Committee allocated all of the revenue projected to come next year from the sales tax extension, which helped solve a state budget crisis. 

If the Ways and Means Committee were to vote later to reduce or eliminate that portion of the sales tax, lawmakers would have to cut the budget by the same amount.

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