On one of the really bad lists, Louisiana is now ahead of the game: Our state is below the national average on the number of people without health insurance.
That’s a real accomplishment and one that the outgoing head of the Department of Health, New Orleans physician Rebekah Gee, can be rightfully proud of.
Gee was under fire from the beginning of her tenure because she supported abortion rights. The governor, most of the Legislature and Republican-oriented groups like the Louisiana Family Forum were of the opposite view on that issue.
But the man who calls the shots, Gov. John Bel Edwards, refused to buckle under pressure and directed her to head the expansion of Medicaid insurance for the working poor.
Hundreds of thousands of families now have access to primary care doctors. Lifesaving procedures have been performed. Even conservative business groups often hostile to Edwards have had to recognize that the health care dollars flowing into Louisiana from the U.S. Treasury have been good for the economy, particularly endangered hospitals in rural areas where large numbers of patients work in low-wage jobs.
Those who blindly blocked Medicaid expansion during the terms of former Gov. Bobby Jindal have some nerve criticizing Gee, who worked with the governor to get Louisiana families expanded health options, for management issues with the program.
Not only was the old administration’s policy wrong, but its Jindal-era management procedures were hung around Gee’s neck by a factious political opposition. It was under Gee’s watch that Medicaid’s state administration much more aggressively checked eligibility for the program.
The ever-provocative U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, called upon her to resign, saying unfairly that she was oblivious to abuse of tax dollars. He and other critics are of the magic wand school of public administration, assuming that a vast public-private program, governed by federal regulations, can be run like a dime store with a clerk stopping a kid with a pilfered candy bar.
Medicaid is a huge program, and it will never be run without a single case of providers miscoding the files, or some beneficiaries out of many thousands abusing the rules by intent or neglect. Gee improved the system.
In fact, Gee should be praised for a significant innovation in purchasing — the “Netflix” model implemented to buy generic medications for the highly contagious hepatitis C. It is a better way to approach the suppression of a dangerous and infectious ailment.
Gee leaves for another job at the end of the month with national praise for her hep C initiative. But the beneficiaries of her tenure are less grand than those who dwell in national policy forums. They are in the households of poorly paid workers who have often had to live with pain because their income wouldn’t pay for a doctor, or who had to clog the emergency rooms to get care because there was no system to give them another place to go.