By Kari Harden
Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly
‘This is tantamount to killing people. The poor and most vulnerable are being thrown away.’
With close to 10,000 letters in tow, a group of community leaders travelled to Baton Rouge Friday morning to make an in-person delivery to Governor Piyush Jindal.
The Jeremiah Group, a faith-based, non-partisan community organization, started their “Life, Liberty, and Healthcare for All” letter campaign in July.
The signed letters urge Jindal to accept Medicaid expansion for Louisiana and were collected from residents across New Orleans.
Jeremiah Group members Dr. Rev. Dwight Webster, David Warren, and Jacqueline Jones take a moment for a prayer before bringing close to 10,000 letters to Baton Rouge, urging Gov. Jindal to expand Medicaid.
“We are extremely disappointed that the legislative session ended without you accepting federal dollars to provide healthcare for 400,000 Louisiana residents – many of whom work hard for a minimum wage; a wage which is not enough for them to be able to afford healthcare insurance,” the letter reads.
According to a report from the Urban Institute, in the 25 states that have not voted to expand Medicaid, seven million adults between the ages of 19 and 64 will be left without Medicaid or any federal help to buy insurance.
The Jeremiah Group’s letter reminds Jindal that “you said during your second Inaugural Address that you ‘believed we all need to check our party affiliations, our ideologies and our political agendas at the door.’ So, there is simply no just or moral reason for Louisiana to refuse almost $16 billion dollars in federal funding while people continue to die because they lack health care.”
Before the group headed off in a convoy to the capitol, they held a press conference at the St. Thomas Community Health Center.
Dr. Donald Irwin called the Affordable Care Act “crucially important,” but said that it is based on the expectation that all states would accept the expansion. “It’s such common sense,” Irwin said.
The people the 2010 law was most designed to help, those making less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, will not be covered or receive help in federal subsidies for insurance in the states that don’t expand Medicaid.
“It represents a really serious problem for our state,” Irwin said. Irwin stressed the importance of keeping the issue at the forefront of pubic discussion and fighting misinformation.
“It will only help – it will not hurt,” said Jeremiah Group member Dr. Torin Sanders, of the expansion. “It will bring money. It will bring jobs. But more than that it will keep people from dying.”
Councilmember Latoya Cantrell joined the group on the trip. Cantrell noted the high rates of HIV and AIDS in Baton Rouge and New Orleans – some of the highest rates in the country.
“We need health care for all people,” Cantrell said. “People deserve that. This is about saving lives. This is about making the city and state healthy. It’s time for Louisiana to be at the top instead of the bottom.”
The Jeremiah Group’s letter lists several facts, including that Louisiana has the second highest rate of uninsured residents in the country, and some of the nation’s highest rates of diabetes, cancer, infectious disease, preventable hospitalizations, low infant birth weight and premature death.
The letter also reminds Jindal that the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion for the first three years and 90 percent of the cost after 10 years: “The state of Louisiana will SAVE money by accepting Medicaid expansion.”
“This is tantamount to killing people,” said community activist Barbara Major. “The poor and most vulnerable are being thrown away.” Major chided Jindal for his “lack of humanity.”
Jacqueline Jones, executive director and lead organizer for the Jeremiah Group, said that Friday’s trip to Baton Rouge is just one step. “The work is just beginning,” Jones said. She described the group’s plans for a massive voter registration drive followed by delivering voters to the polls for the 2015 gubernatorial election.
“It’s not about Obama, it’s about the care,” Sanders said.
“Governor Jindal,” the letter concludes, “you have the opportunity to save thousands of lives by accepting Medicaid Expansion for the State of Louisiana.”
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