BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The head of Louisiana's Department of Health is sounding the alarm against efforts by the US Congress and the president-elect to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, saying it could put patients and the state financial crisis in further jeopardy.
Rebekah Gee, the secretary of LDH, said there is no doubt insurance markets, with their towering rate increases, are in need of reform. However, she argued, parts of the bill have been beneficial to the bayou state.
"Don't throw out the baby with the bath water," Gee said. "There are things that are working great. Medicaid expansion was not only a godsend for people's health. It was a godsend for our budget."
Beyond the marketplaces, Obamacare also includes Medicaid expansion. So far, more than 370,000 working people have signed up across Louisiana. They stand to lose their care if the bill is repealed without a suitable replacement.
"We've already saved a thousand people just from getting colon cancer by removing cancerous polyps. We don't want to go back to the dark ages," Gee said.
Expansion also came with hundreds of millions of dollars in savings for Louisiana. Gee said that money was instead able to be used to help fund the state's medical training schools as well as health waivers for kids with disabilities. "If Medicaid expansion were done away with, the state would lose approximately $2 billion," Gee said.
But it's more than just the health department. Earlier this year, as Louisiana grappled with the budget crisis, the federal money also freed up nearly $200 million that could be used to prevent big cuts to other state agencies, like higher education.
In Washington, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, is among those calling for a repeal of the healthcare law. "We want reform so that the patient has the power, not the state or federal bureaucrats," Cassidy said.
He has a plan to replace Medicaid with gr ants, essentially giving people tax credits for healthcare. He said no one who received Medicaid under expansion would lose their coverage., "We want Medicaid to work better for the patient than perhaps it is working for people right now other than the patient," Cassidy said.
However, Gee said Cassidy's plan would still leave state programs dependent on dollars from Medicaid expansion underfunded. "Either a per capita gr ant or a block gr ant would be a massive cut to the state. It's not more flexibility, it's flexibility to cut services," Gee said.
While most of the Louisiana delegation in Washington supports eliminating Obamacare, one member strongly opposes those efforts. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, is the newly elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. He joined that group of lawmakers Thursday in criticizing plans to gut the healthcare act.
"This is not a game. We're talking about people's very existence. We're talking about the health of more than 30 million Americans," Richmond said.