To manage a lifelong acid reflux condition, the 57-year-old woman often sought help from the Teche Action Clinic in Franklin. Teche is a network of community health clinics that provides low-cost services to about 24,000 residents in a six-parish region including Terrebonne, Lafourche and Assumption. About half of those residents are uninsured.
“I was never able to afford the acid reflux medicine,” Harris said. “But thanks to Dr. (Gary) Wiltz and Teche, they were able to get me on a program and finance it to me because I couldn’t afford it.”
“A person shouldn’t have to choose between buying food, paying rent and going to see the doctor,” Teche Action Clinic Chief Operating Officer Paulette Lofton said.
At Teche, Harris said she was able to get her basic primary care but had to seek specific medical care elsewhere for a bad knee and a possible blood condition.
Without insurance, working poor residents like Harris must wait for weeks or months before being seen by a specialist who can treat complex conditions like cancer or conduct potentially life-saving procedures.
“For a number of people in this state, it’s literally a matter of life and death,” said Ruth Kennedy, the Medicaid expansion director of the state Department of Health and Hospitals.
Starting July 1, about 29,000 residents will be able to benefit from the same specialized services and speedy care afforded to insured residents with the recent statewide expansion of Medicaid. In mid-January, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the executive order granting the expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
“I wanted to cry and say ‘Thank you Lord,’ because I couldn’t get insurance,” Harris said. “Medicine that I really need, I can’t afford and I have to get what I can here. … Now, I can get my eyes looked at better, go to the dentist and get a pap smear.”
Officials estimate that about 375,000 Louisiana residents now qualify for coverage. These are people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to be able to afford insurance on the open market.
Residents earning below 138 percent of the federal poverty line can qualify for coverage. For a single person, that means earning below $16,395; for a family of four, that’s $33,534.
One must also be between the ages of 19 to 64, a resident of Louisiana and the U.S., and be ineligible for Medicaid or Medicare.
“These are folks you see everyday,” said T. Bradley Keith, director of the Close the Gap campaign that pushed for statewide Medicaid expansion. “The folks who mow your lawn, the people who work in the food service industry, those who work in hotel and motels, and the people who cut your hair.”
DHH officials estimate that the expansion will save the state about $100 million in the first year and bring in close to $2 billion to the state with the creation of new private-sector jobs.
Thirty-two states including Louisiana have adopted the Medicaid expansion component of the Affordable Care Act. Enrollment begins in June and coverage starts in July.
To determine eligibility or for more information, visit www.healthy.la.gov or call 1-888-342-6207. Enrollment counselors will also be available on-site at various Teche locations in the bayou region.
Staff Writer Maki Somosot can be reached at 857-2208 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Maki on Twitter at @mdlbsomosot.