'Right versus wrong, not right versus left': Governor John Bel Edwards stumps for Medicaid sign-up in New Orleans _lowres

Advocate file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Governor John Bel Edwards smiles as he begins a meeting with the editorial board of The Advocate and other staffers of the newspaper, Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at the State Capitol.

Gov. John Bel Edwards arrived in New Orleans on Wednesday to stump for Louisiana’s effort to enroll 375,000 residents in an expanded Medicaid program.

As he has done frequently in recent years, Edwards cast the program as both a way to ensure better health care for low-income residents and a way to help cut the state’s own costs for health care.

“This is right versus wrong, not right versus left,” Edwards said at a morning news conference at University Medical Center in New Orleans.

The state already has automatically signed up about 175,000 residents who are on food stamps or other programs whose criteria showed they qualified for the Medicaid program. The state estimates another 200,000 are eligible. About a third of the residents eligible for the program are in the New Orleans area, Edwards said.

The state opened the enrollment process Wednesday, and those who qualify for the program will start receiving care through the program at the beginning of next month.

Anyone with income less than 138 percent of the poverty level qualifies for coverage. That’s about $33,500 a year for a family of four or about $16,400 for single residents.

The Medicaid expansion is part of the Affordable Care Act, also know as “Obamacare.” Former Gov. Bobby Jindal refused to accept the expansion during his term.

Edwards, by contrast, fought for the expansion as head of the Democratic Caucus in the state House and made it a significant part of his campaign for governor last year. He signed an executive order expanding the program on his first full day in office, something he described as the “easiest big decision I’ve made as governor.”

While the state’s hospital system has provided a safety net health care system for the poor, accepting the Medicaid expansion will allow newly eligible residents to receive more preventive care, something that will lead to better health outcomes, advocates say. In addition, by shifting some of those visits away from expensive emergency rooms, the program is expected to save the state about $184 million a year.

The federal government is paying for the early years of the expansion, and Edwards argued that not accepting it amounted to squandering money state residents were paying in taxes anyway.

“Hardworking Louisiana residents are going to have the benefits of health care coverage with dollars we’re already paying to Washington,” Edwards said.

Louisiana residents can sign up for the program at healthy.la.gov or by calling (888) 342-6207. There also are more than 200 locations around the state providing enrollment assistance, and those locations can be found on the website or by calling the enrollment line.

While in New Orleans, Edwards also held a news conference to mark the beginning of hurricane season, urging residents to heed warnings from local and state officials in the case of a storm, and spoke at the “State of the Coast” conference, where he reiterated his commitment to ensuring money for coastal restoration should not go toward other uses.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.