NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - About 53,000 people in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes who were not eligible for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act are at risk of losing access to their doctors.
In August, funding is expected to run out for a temporary insurance plan put in place after Hurricane Katrina.
The Greater New Orleans Community Health Connection, or GNOCHC (pronounced no-kee), is an insurance plan for uninsured adults making less than $11,500 a year.
"We are worried about it," said Susan Todd, the executive director of the nonprofit 504 Health Net. "Without this program we are looking at a decrease in access to services. You're looking at not being able to continue the same level of services that we've had for almost the last seven years now."
Todd said for three years, $10 million came from Community Development Block Grants to fund GNOCHC, and the federal government matched the expense each year.
Now as the grants expire, Todd says the 53,000 adults in the region who have insurance through GNOCHC will have to pay out of pocket. Todd said that will take a financial toll on the patients as well as the public health clinics that are reimbursed through the program.
"We often have a lot of diabetics, hypertensive patients, asthmatic patients in our community. Those who are a working poor," said Michael Griffin, president and CEO of Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans.
Griffin said public clinics are reimbursed $205 per each GNOCHC patient visit. Uninsured patients are charged on a sliding scale and often pay as little as $25.
Griffin said half of all Daughters of Charity patients are insured through GNOCHC, so the loss of reimbursement money could mean drastic cuts to services, personnel and clinic sites.
"The issue becomes where do these patients go if this program goes away and they can't afford the $25 minimum payment or what have you? Do they again start defaulting to the hospital emergency rooms?" said Griffin.
The advocates said GNOCHC covers the group of low-income adults who would otherwise be covered under a Medicaid expansion program.
Gov. Bobby Jindal opposed Medicaid expansion for Louisiana.
"It makes no sense to make more people dependent on the government rather than having more people in private sector coverage," Jindal said last November.
It's an argument President Barack Obama disagrees with and spoke about when celebrating the 7.1 million people who signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday.
"It's also true that despite this law, millions of Americans remain uncovered in part because governors in some states, for political reasons, have deliberately refused to expand coverage under this law," said Obama.
Todd and Griffin said they're working with state and city leaders to determine where new funding could come from in order to keep GNOCHC in operation.
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