When Gov. Bobby Jindal released his budget recently, he casually cut health care coverage for 57,000 people at or below poverty in the four-parish area who would otherwise be uninsured. Removing funding for the Greater New Orleans Community Health Connection means that individuals of Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes will lose $26 million annually for primary care and behavioral health coverage.

The result is not only a social catastrophe but also an economic disaster, straining the network of community health centers and driving patients to emergency rooms where they cannot be turned away.

We anticipate seeing a significant population of patients begin to use the local emergency rooms if patients lose this valuable coverage. The GNOCHC program should be continued because it allows community health centers to provide high-quality care to patients and to keep them healthy and alive.

The program also serves as a cost-saving mechanism to Louisiana taxpayers by keeping patients out of emergency rooms. It is an important form of health care coverage that keeps people who are vulnerable, poor and unable to provide for themselves from choosing between food and health care.

Simply put, it keeps people healthy and alive.

Additionally, there is a significant financial impact that eliminating the GNOCHC program will create. The $10 million in state funds is needed for this program to receive a federal funding match of $16 million, which totals the $26 million needed to provide care across the four parishes. Removing this program would increase health care costs for the state by approximately $59 million due to a rise in emergency room and hospital use.

This impact doesn’t stop with higher costs in the emergency room. In an economic impact study, researchers discovered that more than 300 people in the greater New Orleans area would lose their jobs as a result of cutting the GNOCHC program. These are doctors, nurse practitioners, medical techs and nurses who devote their days to caring for indigent patients who need it most. Losing these jobs would mean a reduction in capacity of care for these clinics.

Cutting this program means fewer patients will get care to manage their chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Fewer women will receive well checkups, and fewer people will receive badly needed counseling appointments. It means losing jobs and it means costing the state more money.

Cutting this program means cutting people’s lives short. We can’t afford it.

Susan Todd

executive director, 504HealthNet

New Orleans