Gee encourages health advocates

Members of the Start Corporation staff discuss what they’ve learned so far during a break at the LPCA’s Legislative Day.



The state’s top doc told local health advocates and others to keep pushing forward, and ignore the naysayers, because Medicaid Expansion has been an overwhelming success.

Dr. Rebekah Gee, M.D. was one of the featured speakers at the La. Primary Care Association’s Legislative Day at the State Capitol on April 17, where local community health center advocates from Teche Action Clinic and the Start Corporation, had an opportunity to synergize with health advocates from across the state.

Gee touted the success of Gov John Bel Edward’s first act in office, issuing an executive order to pass Medicaid throughout the state, on Jan. 12, 2016.

“Medicaid Expansion has been an overwhelming success. The majority of the people of this state support it overwhelmingly and that’s because they see the impact of the expansion on themselves, on their neighbors, and on the health of the people they care for,” Gee said.

Gee, the state Secretary of Health, said 2019 is an election year, and so people should ignore the naysayers.

“Sure we’ve had a few bad apples. But for every one problem, there are thousands of success stories,” she said. “Two weeks ago, I diagnosed a woman with breast cancer. She is having surgery within the next two weeks. If it were not for Medicaid, she could have died, because prior to Medicaid Expansion, she could not afford health insurance.”

Gee said expanding Medicaid has generated over $3 billion of economic activity related to health care, from generating 19,000 jobs, to supporting hospitals, providing new mental health care opportunities.

“The work of Medicaid has been impressive, especially when you consider that we have been fortunate not to close any of our state’s rural hospitals, unlike other states who opted not to pass the Affordable Care Act Program,” she said.

Dr. Gary Wiltz, M.D., the chief executive officer of Teche, said hospital closures are frightening for any community. In Mississippi, he said 31 of the state’s 64 rural hospitals are at high financial risk.

“Mississippi has more rural hospitals at risk of closing than any other state in this country,” he said. “And their legislature did not pass Medicaid.”

Wiltz credits Medicaid Expansion for helping Teche open three school-based clinics in St John Parish, as well as adding more services to the clinic’s 10 campus sites.

Teche Action Clinic was the first community health center to operate in Terrebonne Parish, opening its first site in Dulac (Ashland North), and a second on Tunnel. The clinic also operates a site in Thibodaux and another in Galliano. Teche was also the first community health center to open its doors in the state, in 1974.

The Start Corporation operates a Community Health Center on Civic Center Blvd in Houma, but has offices in Thibodaux, and other areas, where they serve other needs.

Marketing Director Amy Bradley described the LPCA Legislative Day as an incredible opportunity to learn.

“This was awesome, and very much needed. My mind is buzzing with the ideas on how I can further promote my community health center,” Bradley said.

Barbara Strain, who is a Start Director for a planned community health center in Covington, said she gained a lot of knowledge about the state legislature.

“I gained so much insight about our lawmakers, and into what our mission is, especially how we are impacting health care for the people of Louisiana,” Strain said.

Community Health Centers like Teche Action and the Start Corporation serve any patient that walks through the door, no matter their income or health insurance status. In fact, 93 percent of health center patients are at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

Also, the LPCA boasts that by steering patients away from the emergency room and emphasizing preventative care, health centers save the healthcare system money. Their recent findings indicate that health centers saved $584 million to Medicaid.

Leroy Willis, Teche Action Clinic Board President and the Chairman of the LPCA’s Advocacy Movement, said health centers are important providers who make up Louisiana’s healthcare safety-net.

In 2017, collectively, Willis said health centers across the state served over 392,000 primary care patients, nearly 100,000 dental patients, and 58,100 patients requiring behavioral health services.

“Our legislative day provided us with valuable information. We needed the encouragement to keep fighting the mission,” Willis said. •

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