NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - With just days before a major deadline, city healthcare officials as well as community advocates urged people to sign up Monday for healthcare insurance, and the CEO of the federal government Healthcare.gov system came to town to help drive up interest.
This as incoming Gov. John Bel Edwards promised to accept millions the federal government doles out to states willing to expand the number of poor residents covered by Medicaid insurance.
New Orleans has made progress in reducing the number of uninsured people. In the city, the rate dropped from 22 percent to 15 percent since the healthcare.gov site was launched in 2013.
"Obviously, I don't think anybody here would say that 15 percent is exactly where we want to be," said Kevin Counihan, CEO of healthcare.gov.
Open enrollment ends Jan. 31.
There is a competition with 19 cities to get the most uninsured people enrolled in a health coverage plan. The winning city is promised a visit by President Barack Obama, according to New Orleans Health Department Director Charlotte Parent.
"So we know we have our work cut out for us," Parent said at a Monday news conference.
Advocates work to drive home the message that medical treatment needs are hard to predict.
"You're not sure when you're going to get sick, when you might get in a car wreck, you don't know when you're going to need that coverage," said Susan Todd of 504HealthNet.
Still, advocates said they continue to battle public perception that coverage is not affordable in the federal marketplace.
"The biggest issue for me is that people are not coming, right, to get the information," Parent said.
The penalty for failing to have health coverage in 2016 increases to $695 or 2.5 percent of a family's household income.
Counihan applauds the governor-elect's stance on expanding Medicaid eligibility.
"It's great to see a state like Louisiana and the governor's commitment to doing so," he said.
"What we're really hopeful for is that in working with the governor and his staff and team that we could implement that type of expansion in a way that really fills that gap in," said Counihan.
According the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an additional 265,000 uninsured people in the state would benefit if Medicaid is expanded.
Still, it won't happen overnight.
"It is unfortunately very complex and complicated and it's not that simple. We all wish that things were that simple, but I am very positive and hopeful that we will have expansion in 2016," said Todd.
504HealthNet said if Louisiana's Medicaid eligility is expanded, approximately 60,000 now enrolled in the Greater New Orleans Community Health Connection would be moved to the Medicaid program.