NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Gov. John Bel Edwards urged congressional leaders in a letter Tuesday to protect Medicaid expansion, which benefits more than 400,000 people in Louisiana alone.
Meanwhile, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise told FOX 8 News he disagrees with the Congressional Budget Office's assessment that millions will automatically lose health coverage afforded through former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Edwards wrote, "Today, I write to you to voice my serious concern with the American Health Care Act, in particular, its impact on Medicaid Expansion…Today more than 405,000 working people in Louisiana have access to health care through Medicaid expansion, many for the first time in their lives."
"Without expansion we don't have the availability to provide the services to that new population because we don't have the dollars to do it," said Dr. Rochelle Head-Dunham, executive director of the tri-parish Metropolitan Human Services District that serves Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. The agency provides among other things, behavioral health services.
The governor sent his letter mere hours after U.S. House Republicans' bill to replace the ACA garnered negatives headlines around the country.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 14 million Americans would lose health coverage next year if the bill becomes law. That prompted Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy to express concerns.
"If 14 million people are losing insurance, I'm concerned within a year relative to where we would be. That's not what President Trump promised," said Cassidy.
But the House leadership, including Whip Steve Scalise rejects the CBO's assessment.
"If 14 million people that are currently forced to be on Obamacare will get the freedom to choose whatever they want in healthcare under our bill and choose to get off of Obamacare, that's not lost coverage, that's called healthcare freedom," said Scalise.
The House Republicans' bill would roll back Medicaid expansion. Scalise said Medicaid in general is problematic.
"The Medicaid expansion is something that if you look at health care, the most broken part of health care across the country before Obamacare was Medicaid, so putting millions more people on that plan isn't the best way to go. In fact, we reform Medicaid, we actually allow states to be innovative," Scalise said.
But local health care providers are wary of the prospect of thousands losing coverage they gained only because of the expanded Medicaid insurance rolls.
"More of the working poor who heretofore have not had access to services that we all enjoy from a behavioral health standpoint, which means they now have access to psychiatric evaluations and psychiatric medication management," Head-Dunham said.
In the metro area alone, thousand reap the benefits of Medicaid expansion.
"The 30,000 is inclusive of all populations that we serve which would be those with mental illness, as well as those with substance use disorders," she said.
And for a lot of people who now have access to treatment, it's about more than just improving their quality of life.
"We see on average a reduction of about 15 years off of the life span of a person who has a behavioral health disorder simply because they don't get treatment," said Head-Dunham.