Louisiana expanded its Medicaid program just over two years ago.

In that time, the number of people who were able to obtain health insurance has ballooned.

When Gov. John Be Edwards approved the expansion, about 25 percent of the people in Louisiana lacked basic medical coverage. Since that time, the number is down to around 10 percent.

That is a huge difference in numbers, of course, but the real difference is measured in the lives the expansion will be able to save.

Consider these numbers, which tell just part of the story: 400 women on Medicaid have been diagnosed with breast cancer and begun treatment; 8,000 have had precancerous colon polyps removed; and 57,000 people are receiving mental-health care.

Those are staggering figures that are making a real impact on the quality of people’s lives – an likely saving a good number of lives themselves.

The Medicaid expansion also has some hidden benefits. People who are on Medicaid, for instance, are more likely than those who are uninsured to receive preventive care. That will likely save some money in the long term, preventing more serious – and costly – conditions altogether.

And, people who have insurance of any kind can get medical care at doctors’ offices and clinics rather than waiting until problems become acute and seeking care in emergency rooms. This saves the state and its hospitals the money it was spending on expensive emergency care.

Unfortunately, the expansion has caused some increases in costs. That is to be expected when so many more people are getting coverage. Because of the cost, though, the program has been the target of politically motivated attacks.

Edwards has remained committed to the expansion, and that’s good news for the thousands of working poor Louisianans who have benefited from it. A family of four is now eligible if its total income is around $34,600 a year.

Most recently, a state audit cast doubt on the Department of Health and Hospital’s oversight of Medicaid payments. It rightfully critiqued the state program and suggested better controls to ensure the public’s money is being spent as intended.

Better oversight is clearly needed. It will protect the scarce resources that are paying for the Medicaid expansion and, perhaps, it will silence some of the critics.

The most important thing here, though, is that lives are being saved in great numbers. That is a difference that transcends the political pressures of the expansion.


Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.