Louisiana’s push to expand Medicaid coverage to more uninsured people this summer presents “the major opportunity of this generation,” the head of the state’s health department said Wednesday.

Dr. Rebekah Gee, secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals, discussed the impact of the looming Medicaid expansion during a panel discussion at Propeller, a business incubator that focuses on ventures planning to tackle pressing issues facing New Orleans.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity now in this state,” she told a crowd of a couple dozen.

Gee pressed the audience to “think about different models of payment based on accountability, quality and outcomes, and paying for improvements” in order to develop and shift “to models that work in the community.”

Reducing neighborhood crime and addressing the problem of so-called “food deserts” in poor urban areas also are priorities, she said.

“Those are all related to health, because our health is so much more than the receipt of health services,” she said. “Our health deals with the community we live in and how we eat, live and work.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who took office in January, has pushed for the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, which is expected to provide coverage to an estimated 300,000 more people.

Adults who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $33,460 for a family of four — will soon be eligible for Medicaid under the expanded program, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”

The expansion is expected to bring into the fold tens of thousands of people in critical lower-wage sectors like the hotel, restaurant and hospitality industry, as well as construction workers, said Jan Moller, director of the nonprofit Louisiana Budget Project.

“There’s an awful lot of people who work very hard at their jobs and just can’t buy coverage today,” Moller said at Wednesday’s panel. “They’re going to get a Medicaid card or be eligible for one on July 1.”

In turn, Moller — whose organization advocates for low- to moderate-income families — believes that the 300,000 estimate is an “absolutely low-ball figure.”

“I would bet money that we’re going to be well above 400,000 enrollees,” he said.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.