Louisiana Budget Project Says Bill 186 Will Strip Child Support Payments From Children in Need; Rep. Bacala Says Otherwise

Louisiana State Representative Tony Bacala via Timothy Babin

Louisiana State Representative Tony Bacala, Republican representing Ascension Parish, has been in the crosshairs of Twitter recently, specifically of Jan Moller, Executive Director of the Louisiana Budget Project, and Louisiana Democrats. Moller recently tweeted that, “A Louisiana legislator wants state government to confiscate child support payments from poor kids to help pay their Medicaid costs.”

Louisiana Democrats retweeted that, “He has introduced legislation that would make Mr. Burns cringe. Bacala wants to confiscate child support payments from poor families to pay their kids Medicaid costs.”

The legislation, House Bill No. 186, filed by Bacala, says its objective is to: “Provides for state agency partnerships to improve Medicaid administration and program integrity.” What that means depends on who you ask.

Danny Mintz is Director of Safety Net Policy at the La Budget Project. “We’re a policy organization that monitors and advocates on policies that affect low to moderate income folks in Louisiana.”

According to Mintz, “The bill appears to do basically two things. One is establish some sort of list, in the form of an annual report to the legislature, of the number of kids enrolled in Medicaid who are claimed as dependents by someone other than their custodial parent…” He adds, “It is to sort of develop that list and break it down by the income of the tax filers who are claiming those children as dependents. The second part of the bill, which to my reading is disconnected entirely from the first half of the bill, seems to redirect child support money that would ordinarily go to children who receive Medicaid. So that is by definition, children who, in general, are in households earning less than 138% of the federal poverty line.”

Mintz continues, “The shorthand version is it takes child support money that would ordinarily go to children who receive Medicaid and redirects instead to the state of Louisiana to reimburse the state for Louisiana’s portion of that child’s medical care. And functionally, what that does is take money that should go to the direct care and support of children in families that earn low income, and pulls that away to pay back the state, or to pay the state, for what is their legal obligation to provide those children with medical care.

“I don’t think that’s a wise use of state resources, and I think children in Louisiana should receive medical care when they need it, regardless of their family’s ability to pay. And if the state has established a means to pay for their care, it is cruel and misguided policy to take money away from those children to recoup the state’s cost.” He adds, “I think that it seems clear in the plain language of the text of the bill that its effect would be to take money from some of the state’s poorest children and give it to one of the state’s largest agencies. I have a hard time finding a compelling rationale for that choice.”

According to Bacala, what the bill boils down to is reallocation.

“Either the bill isn’t clear enough in its direction, or people are just misreading; it’s one or the other. It might need to be cleaned up because somebody told me that there was an interpretation of the bill that its intent is to take child support payments that are paid by one parent to another, and redirect those child support payments to the Department of Health.

“And that’s not the intent of the bill, not the intent of the bill at all.” Bacala explains.

“It was created primarily for fraud, waste, and abuse. In the original task force, there was information gathered from the Department of Revenue. It indicated that about one third of Medicaid enrollees file income tax returns. And it also indicated that just over half of those income tax returns filed by Medicaid enrollees indicated a different number of dependents in the income tax that existed for the application.

He continues, “In other words, someone may claim four dependents for the purpose of applying for Medicaid and only one dependent or zero dependents in their income tax return.

“There’s a presumption that what is going on is that one parent is claiming children for the purpose of receiving Medicaid. And another parent is claiming children for the purpose of income tax deductions, but the two don’t cross in the Medicaid application. And anecdotally, we hear stories that a mom and dad of children who do not marry– that it can be used as a method to get Medicaid wherein one parent has a low income, shows eligibility for Medicaid, and another parent has high income that would preclude eligibility.

“So, the bill is to try to identify what is technically called the non-custodial parent and find out if they should be assessed a fee or required to reimburse the state if their salary is such that they should be doing so.

“And I’ll give you just an example. You could have one parent, you could have two children. One parent makes 20 grand. The other makes 100,000. The parent that makes 20,000 applies and receives Medicaid. And the parent that makes a hundred thousand, is not held responsible for the children’s welfare at all.

“So you would seek to determine where that hundred thousand earner is and tell them, ‘listen, the state’s paying for your children’s healthcare. You make enough money that you should be responsible for it,’ and then try to get reimbursement from them. That’s it.

“I will speak very clearly. We’re not trying to take money, child support payments, from anybody.”

And what about the belief the bill is taking money from poor kids to pay for their Medicaid costs?  “No, you’re asking well-to-do non-custodial parents to be responsible for their children.”

Bacala adds, “I’ll say this: if the bill’s purpose isn’t clearly stated, I will support amendments to the bill that will clarify the purpose and ensure that it’s not misinterpreted in such a fashion that it would negatively impact families.

“I think it benefits the people of the state whose tax dollars are used to provide healthcare, to those in need. And the idea is who is really in need? And it took us to the point that we can free up dollars from those who are cheating the system through loopholes, then we can redirect that money to those who truly need it.”

So, who is right?

Bacala, who wrote the bill, is sure that he is. “I’m a little disappointed that it’s been misinterpreted and spread, quite frankly.”

If Bacala’s wrong though, then Mintz’s accusation of cruelty can’t be discounted.

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