NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Health care advocates from Orleans, Jefferson, and Plaquemines as well as some other areas urged state lawmakers Tuesday to fund community clinics that are currently serving tens of thousands of people in the New Orleans area.
They said the working poor will suffer in terms of health-care needs, and the state will end up shelling out more money for hospital costs if the cuts the governor proposes are adopted by the Legislature.
Members of the House Appropriations Committee were told that gains in community-based health care achieved since Hurricane Katrina will be eroded.
New Orleans-area lawmakers said fighting to spare the Greater New Orleans Community Health Connection (GNOCHC) which is called "Nokee") from cuts. There are 41 clinics for the uninsured between 19 and 64 years of age in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes.
"Because it relieves a big burden off of hospitals where people have a sore throat, they go to the clinics, and we have to make sure that they are funded properly," said State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans.
The clinics currently served nearly 60,000 people, including local musicians.
Jindal's budget cuts state funds for GNOCHC, but Tuesday proponents asked lawmakers to allocate $10 million for the network of clinics.
"It really is a smart business decision. If we have $10 million put in the state budget we draw down an additional $16 million from the federal government, so without it we're looking at a $26 million dollar loss in funding for primary care, and mental health services in our region," said Susan Todd, Executive Director of 504HealthNet.
New Orleans Health Department Director Charlotte Parent, a nurse herself, warned lawmakers that without the fully functioning clinics the state will incur more costs because the uninsured who are now receiving preventive care will have no choice but to head to hospital emergency rooms.
"At least $59 million in costs in emergency care services if we don't get the $10 million," said Parent.
She further stated.
"Losing the "Nokee" program would have dire consequences for our region and would undo the work that we have been doing for 10 years to get us to this point," said Parent.
And Badon said even as the clinics are a top priority, so is adequate funding for the almost complete University Medical Center, which will replace the LSU Interim Hospital in New Orleans.
"We have to fund that hospital because it means so much to the people in the greater metropolitan area, and so we've got to look for ingenius ways to fund that hospital," Badon stated.
Many money fights are anticipated during the just begun legislative session as lawmakers deal with a $1.6 billion revenue shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1.