Whom to watch as Team John Bel Edwards prepares for special legislative session _lowres

Dr. Rebekah Gee.

In Jeff Sadow’s recent column, the professor suggests that Gov. John Bel Edwards and I have an obsession with Medicaid expansion. Sadow is correct in that we are determined to expand access, decrease costs and improve health outcomes. Expansion accomplishes all three. The Governor and I believe that all people, no matter how wealthy or poor, should have access to basic health care coverage that is the foundation for a better life. Each day, as I work to improve health care in Louisiana, I meet people who are living healthier lives because they can now seek the preventive care they need — many for the first time. About 380,000 people, including individuals who work in vital sectors of our economy, can now lead healthier, more productive lives because of Medicaid expansion coverage. For so many, it was just a year ago they put off getting care because of the cost, or if they sought care, they went to the nearest emergency room, where you and I, as taxpayers, paid the expensive bill.

Today, I’m hearing different stories. I recently spoke to a middle-aged mother who was diagnosed with cancer only because she now has coverage. Without coverage, her tumor may have been picked up too late to cure and her daughters would have grown up without their mother. I heard from a man in the Lafayette area who has sickle cell anemia. Because he now has a primary care doctor, he no longer has to go to the local emergency room several times a month for care. These are just two examples of the more than 50,000 individuals who are now receiving preventive care that is detecting precancerous polyps or early stage breast cancer, or leading to a diagnosis of high blood pressure or diabetes. As the daughter of a mother who died of breast cancer, and as a practicing physician, I know these are not just numbers but real lives.

Not only are individuals seeing the effect of this administration’s determination for better health, but so are the businesses of this state. Leaders of the business and faith communities tell me daily that they are seeing the difference that health care coverage makes in the lives of those people they serve and those they employ. For those that argue that Louisiana simply cannot afford the benefits of health care coverage, the facts paint a different story. Contrary to the reports cited by Sadow from the previous administration, the reality is the cost of expansion allows for our Medicaid program to be funded by fewer state tax dollars. Last year we saved more than $184 million state tax dollars from expansion — savings we used to partially solve the multi-billion dollar budget deficit that Gov. Edwards inherited when he took office. Further, we expect these savings to continue for years to come and will prevent deeper cuts to education and other vital state services. Let’s trust good data and the reality of how coverage is improving lives, instead of individuals who use skewed statistics and ignore the life changing work being done in Louisiana. Listen carefully to the leaders who actually work in this field, and you will hear people beside myself and Edwards who believe that better access to health care is better for Louisiana.

Rebekah Gee

secretary, Louisiana Department of Health

Baton Rouge