State takes first step to save a healthcare program vital for - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

State takes first step to save a healthcare program vital for neighborhood clinics

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Within the next few months, 53,000 people will be at risk of losing access to their doctors in Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes.

State representatives took the first step in making sure a vital reimbursement program for neighborhood clinics doesn't expire.

"It really kind of put things in jeopardy in the last year," said Steve Spires, a policy analyst for the Louisiana Budget Project. "It's important to keep this program in tact."

The Greater New Orleans Community Health Connection, or GNOCNC, has been an integral reimbursement program for the region's neighborhood clinics.

The clinics are accessible to everyone, but they're most important for patients making less than $11,000 a year who cannot afford primary and comprehensive care in the new Health Insurance Marketplace, and who do not qualify for Medicaid.

"What we've seen in New Orleans is that we have been able to get people to understand now the importance of preventative care. To go backwards for us would be the worst thing," said Charlotte Parent, director of the New Orleans Health Department.

When it was originally set up after Hurricane Katrina, GNOCNC was supposed to be a bridge program to Medicaid expansion.

"The idea was they were going to start laying the ground work with these neighborhood clinics and start finding who the uninsured people were and get them enrolled so that when medicaid expansion came in 2014, we could just transition right over," said Spires.

However, the state opted out of medicaid expansion, which would have been paid for by the federal government for the first three years before the state would have to take on up to 10 percent of the costs, Spires explained.

On July 5, 2012, Gov. Bobby Jindal said on Meet the Press, "Look, federal dollars aren't free. Those dollars are coming from us, our children, our grandchildren borrowing money from China to spend money on government programs we can't afford."

Now, GNOCNC is set to run out of money by August.

However, after months of worry by many healthcare providers, state representatives decided to include at least $10 million in the budget, which would be matched with $20 million of federal money, to fund the program for another year.

Some healthcare providers now say they sit on edge hoping the money gets approved by the state Senate as the budget is reviewed over Memorial Day weekend, before facing the last state hurdle.

"Hopefully the governor signs it so that it continues here," said Parent. "This is a program that's here, it works, and we want to make sure it stays here for the citizens."

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