NEW ORLEANS — With another election season heating up, one big topic that keeps coming up is the cost of health care.
In Wednesday night's Democratic presidential debate, the candidates all claimed they have some sort of plan to get more people access to health care. It’s something that’s already happening here in Louisiana.
If you can set your political leanings aside and understand most on the stage are well-paid politicians, this comment about health care during the democratic debate may make sense.
"I know whatever they’re going to prescribe, whether it's an EpiPen, inhaler I can afford it,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY. “The truth about health care in America today is people can't afford it.”
For people who can't afford it, there are places like the Kenner community health center in the Esplanade mall. It's part of Access Health Louisiana, a statewide network of community health centers offering health care to anyone regardless if they have money or health insurance.
"When folks don't have insurance, they wait to enter care when things are really bad," James Comeaux said.
Comeaux is the senior vice president of operations at Access Health Louisiana. He says the state’s decision to expand Medicaid two years ago under the Affordable Care Act dramatically changed the access to health care in Louisiana.
Since then, more than 450,000 people in Louisiana enrolled in Medicaid.
According to a new study by Tulane University, the expansion has helped bring down the number of low-income people who couldn't afford to see a doctor to about 26% across the state. That's a roughly 4 percent decrease.
Comeaux says with one less concern about payment, they're seeing about 15% more patients at their health centers.
"With Medicaid expansion that stress of not knowing how to pay has gone away. Not only have we seen more patients across the system, but we also have more opportunity to help patients take care of themselves better,” Comeaux said.
To continue that mission, Comeaux says they can use more state and federal funding to provide more specialized care to what looks like a growing population of patients that needs it.
While there was growth in the number of people in Louisiana using Medicaid, the Tulane University study found there was also an increase in wait times at providers. It also found that participation by specialists was limited.