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A "second line for health care" in New Orleans drew health care providers who spoke out in favor of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

It may not be festival season right now, but we are celebrating: Happy 54th birthday to Medicaid!

On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bipartisan Social Security Act amendments into law, creating Medicaid as the bedrock program providing health care access for low-income Americans. The program has been a vital lifeline to individuals born into adverse socioeconomic backgrounds or in moments of need — particularly children, seniors, people of color, veterans, and those living with disabilities.

Under the new leadership of Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana became the 37th state to expand its Medicaid program. This allowed more people to qualify for insurance coverage under Medicaid, especially those who were working and not offered health insurance through their job. Health care leaders and the Edwards administration celebrated the third anniversary of Medicaid expansion this past week. Louisiana spends $0 on its Medicaid expansion program, because of federal policies that cover the cost. Research has shown Medicaid enrollment improves school attendance, high school graduation, and college enrollment. Medicaid-eligible children earn more and require less medical care in adulthood. Medicaid has proved to stimulate economic growth and create jobs through well-targeted investment. Through Medicaid, low-income Americans can more often seek cost-effective preventive care. Medicaid also eliminates catastrophic out-of-pocket medical costs.

This cost-effective preventive care is provided, in most cases, by Community Health Centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers which exist all over the state of Louisiana. For over 50 years, these health centers have been providing primary care, dental, and behavioral health services to rural and underserved communities in Louisiana. They help people manage their health on a regular basis and stay out of the emergency room. They are unique because they accept Medicaid, Medicare and most forms of insurance. Even with no insurance, they treat anybody regardless of their ability to pay or insurance status. Starting Aug. 5, we are celebrating National Health Center Week in honor of our Community Health Centers and their 50 years of service.

During this same week, 504HealthNet is working with Community Health Centers in New Orleans to launch an innovative program for a special New Orleans population, which is the third cause for celebration. Teaming up with local tourism leaders, 504HealthNet has created the “Healthy Hospitality” initiative which aims to improve access to health care services for hospitality workers across the region — many of whom are uninsured. 504HealthNet, a local nonprofit, will provide navigation services for hospitality workers to find a medical home within a Community Health Centers. We are grateful for Medicaid, our Community Health Centers, and the hospitality industry in our great region.

Tiffany Netters, MPA, PMP

executive director, 504HealthNet

New Orleans

Our Views: As Obamacare debate heats up, Louisiana can't afford to go alone on health care