U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged New Orleans residents Thursday to enroll for health insurance coverage through the federally established marketplace before a March 31 deadline.
Sebelius’ visit to the Algiers Regional Library came as organizations in New Orleans and around the state are working on last-minute efforts to sign up residents through the healthcare marketplace established through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“A family of four in the city of New Orleans can find a plan right here in the city of New Orleans for less than $23 a month,” Sebelius said, noting that is less than most cellphone bills.
The latest enrollment push comes because March 31 is the last time residents will be able to enroll in health insurance that will start on April 1. Those who miss the deadline will have to wait until the next open enrollment period in October and will have to wait until January 2015 for coverage.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu said officials are making an “extra push” to get people signed up for insurance before that deadline.
“It really is important we have a healthy workforce,” he said.
So far, about 17,000 people have enrolled for healthcare insurance in the New Orleans area, which federal officials define as the city and Metairie. That is about 74 percent of the goal the federal government set of getting 23,000 people enrolled by the March 31 deadline.
A total of 175,000 people in New Orleans are without health insurance, and about 20 percent of Louisiana’s residents do not have coverage, Sebelius said. About 57 percent of those people would be eligible for Medicaid should the state choose to expand that program.
The decision by Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state Legislature not to accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion came in for criticism from Sebelius and others during Thursday’s event.
In particular, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who also chairs the state Democratic Party, blasted what she called the “Jindal gap,” referring to residents who she said should have been covered under the Medicaid expansion and — because the law anticipated that is how they would receive health coverage — are not eligible for federal subsidies available to other residents.
“Louisiana has so much to gain from getting everyone covered,” she said.
The decision not to expand Medicaid is costing Louisiana about $4.3 million a day, Sebelius said. The expanded program would cover those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $32,499 a year for a family of four, and would be completely funded by the federal government in its early years.
The Jindal administration has argued that even though the expansion would be free to the state in the short run, it would eventually cost the state money. Bills are pending in the Legislature that would force the administration to accept the expansion, though similar measures failed last year.
Those looking to sign up for health insurance can go to www.healthcare.gov or call (800) 318-2596.