NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Thousands of Louisiana residents without health insurance can begin applying for coverage through the state's expanded Medicaid program later this week. It is designed to help the working poor.
"I'm still sick, so I definitely need health care," said Pastor Christiana Ford, of House of Faith Non-Denominational Ministry in New Orleans.
She tried to buy coverage on her own through the federal healthcare.gov marketplace, but faced financial obstacles.
"I went to that website and I couldn't afford that insurance because I wasn't making enough money." said Ford.
It is not that she does not work.
"I work two jobs," Ford stated.
June 1, Ford and others who earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage, but too little to buy coverage on their own will have the opportunity to make application for insurance.
It is possible because soon after being sworn in, Governor John Bel Edwards signed an executive order which authorized the expansion of eligibility for Medicaid in Louisiana, something provided for in the federal Affordable Care Act. It is estimated the program will benefit to 300,000 to 400,000 people in this state.
"What we have had is a system where pregnant women got Medicaid, children got Medicaid, but largely adults didn't have access to Medicaid," said Rebekah Gee, M.D., Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
Gee said the state is set to commence enrollment as planned.
"We're ready," she stated.
People 19 to 64 with a household income less than 138-percent of the federal poverty level can apply. And under expanded Medicaid it is not necessary to have dependent children in a household.
The maximum yearly income for a single person is $16, 395 and for a household of four it is $33, 534.
"There's a button on that website that says sign up for Medicaid here, click on that, that takes you to healthcare.gov," said Dr. Gee.
Former Governor Bobby Jindal, a republican, refused to expand Medicaid. Jindal said the state could be saddled with millions of dollars in additional costs down the road that it could not afford.
But Governor Edwards is banking on the federal law which provides states 100-percent federal funding through 2016 to cover the additional beneficiaries. The feds share will be 95-percent for calendar year 2017 and since Louisiana's new fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, DHH said that means the feds share for the state's FY'17 will be 97.5 percent.
"The $184 million dollars is the budget savings for next fiscal year," Dr. Gee stated.
Then funding drops to 94-percent in 2018, and 93-percent in 2019, and never below 90-percent in subsequent years.
Louisiana missed out on the previous years of total funding.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says previously 30 other states plus the District of Columbia expanded Medicaid.
Louisiana is the 31st state.
Come July 1 coverage officially begins for Louisiana residents who successfully enrolled during the month of June.
Susan Todd, Executive Director of 504HealthNet, an advocacy organization, said no one should be ashamed to apply for the coverage.
"This isn't welfare in the sense of dollars that are handed out, this is the ability for people to go and see a doctor when they are sick, so that they can get back to work," Todd stated.
The state's insurance industry is on board.
Jeff Drozda, Chief Executive Officer of the Louisiana Association of Health Plans said when the uninsured are forced to use hospital emergency rooms for all of their care, everyone pays, including people with employer based coverage and those who bought coverage in the private marketplace.
"It affects all of us, in terms of what we pay in taxes because the state does allow a payment to the hospitals and providers for uncompensated care, the problem is that's costly for everyone, and if we can grab those individuals and put them into the managed care program that saves dollars for everyone," said Drozda.
There are a number of locations where in-person application can be made, as well.
To get more information go to, www.healthy.la.gov. or call 1-888-342-6207.