(WVUE) - Coverage officially began Friday for tens of thousands who enrolled in the state's new expanded Medicaid program in June.
Dr. Rebekah Gee, who is secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said enrollment levels exceeded what they hoped for on the first day of July.
The governor's office said Friday that more than 235,000 have enrolled so far. Gee said they set a goal of 200,000. The ultimate goal is to have almost 400,000.
"We know it's the right thing to do for our state. Both the working poor, who are going to benefit from the coverage, but also the hospitals and clinics and doctors and the other providers who are going to finally get the reimbursement for care that they have been dispensing for so long," Gov. John Bel Edwards said. "Our employers who are going to have a healthier, more productive workforce simply by availing ourselves of the tax dollars we're paying to Washington for this purpose anyway."
Medicaid expansion is designed to help people who make too much money to qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage, but earn too little to buy insurance on their own through the private insurance marketplace. Eligibility requirements include an income level up to $16,395 a year for an individual, or $33,534 per year for a family of four.
"We are expecting 375,000 people this year, and we can accommodate that number of people," Gee said. "We're going to have to take a look as we go where are the gaps, where are those places where we're going to need more providers and help to build relationships. All of that is going to be a challenge. It's not going to be seamless and perfect."
Medicaid Expansion is expected to save the state and taxpayers $184 million this year alone.
"And in a year when we've struggled with a record deficit, it's very critical that we take advantage of these savings opportunities, so we're excited about it," said the governor.
Gee said participants are eager to use their new benefits.
"Some people put off their surgeries for years, and I know of one woman who had her surgery scheduled for today, so people are taking a deep breath, and it's so exciting to think about the improvement in their lives that this will create," she said.
Gee is confident there will be enough health providers for the additional people with health coverage around the state.
"Other states have had challenges, but by and large, people can be seen," Gee said. "We have nurse practitioners, we have primary care docs, we have federally qualified health centers, we have all these private partners we're supporting, a network all throughout the state of partners who are there to provide uncompensated care, care for Medicaid."
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