NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - People walk around every day in Louisiana nervous they may get sick. Jeremy Moore is one of them and his concern is for good reason.
"Half the time I can't even go to see a doctor because I can't afford it," said Moore.
He works at a New Orleans restaurant and does not receive health coverage as part of his employment. Starting June 1, enrollment kicks off for Louisiana's new expanded Medicaid program. It is designed to help more of the working poor gain health coverage.
Moore hopes he qualifies.
New Orleans is Louisiana's tourism hotspot, and the state's health chief, Dr. Rebekah Gee, said the ability to expand the number of people with government-funded insurance will greatly benefit New Orleans.
"We have a lot of restaurant workers, entertainment people who work in our hotels and hospitality industry," Gee said. "Many of these people don't have access to insurance. In fact, in New Orleans we have more people than almost any other region in the state who would benefit - around 110,000 people."
Longtime French Quarter businessman Robert Watters agrees.
"I think that in New Orleans there are a lot of people who are part-time employees, and I think for that reason that we may well have a lot of people are not caught by the present net and Medicaid Expansion will help these people," he said.
Watters said having more tourism workers insured could lessen attrition at some businesses in the hospitality industry.
"I think it will help with employee retention among those people who do not provide health insurance," he said.
One place to make application for the program is healthy.la.gov. There are also dozens of in-person application sites, including Daughters of Charity in New Orleans.
"Primary care to us in the healthcare industry the game changer, that is it actually will better the health status of our community," said Michael Griffin, CEO of Daughters of Charity Services in New Orleans.
Louisiana joins 30 other states and the District of Columbia which earlier expanded Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. Persons ages 19 to 64 may apply. Income levels range from $16,395 to $44,961, depending on the size of a household.
"It's part of the healthcare system just like Medicare is part of the healthcare system, it's something that our tax dollars are paying for and it's something that Louisiana should benefit from," Gee said.
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal refused to expand Medicaid. He was concerned that the state would be saddled with unmanageable costs down the road because of the new enrollees.
But after Gov. John Bel Edwards was sworn in, he moved quickly to sign an executive order in January to authorize Medicaid expansion in Louisiana. Under the federal law, Louisiana gets 100 percent funding through 2016 for newly enrolled. The state said that means a savings to the budget of $184 million for the next fiscal year.
However, the fed's share share drops to 95 percent for calendar year 2017, and after 2019 it will never be less than 90 percent.
"This is not a welfare program. This is healthy Louisiana. The point of this program is to make sure that our citizens are healthy, and being healthy has to have the component of having health care. As a physician, I know that better than most," Gee said.
Moore said he tried to buy insurance himself through the federal health reform marketplace but could not afford it.
"They offered me a quote that was out of my price range," he said.
And trying to purchase insurance in the private market can be too costly for some.
"If you're company doesn't offer it, it's $400, or $500, $600, even more for a family per month," said Susan Todd, Executive Director of 504 HealthNet.