Filed Under:  Health & Wellness, Local, News

State’s health clinics see benefits from the ACA

16th December 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

Louisiana Democrats are touting the benefits state health clinics continue to receive under the Affordable Care Act as area health care providers receive millions of dollars to increase health services.

The push to highlight positive aspects of the law comes as Republican opposition to President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement remains strong and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal continues to bar the state from expanding Medicaid services to an estimated 400,000 residents.

Health clinics are on the front lines of serving low-income patients in a state where an estimated 20 percent of residents are without health coverage, a figure that is among the highest in the nation. The millions of dollars in federal grants awarded in the current fiscal period, according to state Democrats, will serve about 60,000 Louisiana residents. “The Affordable Care Act is more than just a website,” Democratic state Rep. Regina Barrow said, who participated in a Dec. 10 conference call to promote the federal grants. Barrow, a member of the health and welfare committee in the Louisiana House of Representatives, said various state health clinics have received more than $70 million in grants since 2011.

Deano Thornton, the CEO of Winn Community Health Center and the former mayor of Winnfield, La., said his clinic received $290,000 to fund its expansion of health services to neighboring communities, citing the need to increase the clinic’s service area in a rural part of the state. “We are the only provider in the parish that accepts Medicaid,” Thornton said during the conference call. “We are also the only provider that furnishes behavioral health and dental care services.”

In Louisiana, while a quarter of the population is uninsured, three-quarters of the patients served by health clinics throughout the state lack insurance, said public health advocate Dr. Corey Hebert. Health clinic patients are also less likely to have Medicaid coverage, Hebert said, something that has led Louisiana health care providers to back Medicaid expansion for those who now qualify. But the governor’s refusal to accept federal funds to broaden Medicaid rolls has created what Democrats call the “Jindal gap,” leaving hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents uninsured who earn too much for traditional Medicaid coverage but who don’t qualify for federal health subsidies.

Jindal opposes increasing Medicaid services because of the added costs associated with beefing up state healthcare rolls. The federal government will cover the cost of new Medicaid services for the first three years of expanded services. The state then picks up a 10 percent portion of the cost of widening Medicaid services, something Jindal and other GOP leaders contend is too costly. Democrats and healthcare advocates, however, argue Louisiana already pays a high price with so many uninsured residents who use emergency services to access health care.

The debate over Medicaid expansion is likely to play a role in the upcoming gubernatorial and state legislative races, with area hospital associations and health clinic groups pushing for commitments from political candidates to support broader Medicaid coverage for the state’s uninsured residents. In New Orleans, the Common Ground Health Clinic and the NO/AIDS Task Force, one of the city’s largest HIV/AIDS service providers, received two of the dozen recent federal grants awarded in the state, totaling roughly $750,000 each to reach new healthcare populations in Orleans Parish.

This article originally published in the December 16, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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