Rally protests Jindal stands

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Ray Russell, of New Orleans, and a member of A Community Voice, listens Tuesday to speakers during the 'Enough is Enough' rally on the steps of the State Capitol.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Ray Russell, of New Orleans, and a member of A Community Voice, listens Tuesday to speakers during the 'Enough is Enough' rally on the steps of the State Capitol.

About 400 union members, schoolteachers, doctors, clergy and others rallied Tuesday on the State Capitol steps to protest Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision not to accept federal money to expand membership in Medicaid.

Speakers at the “Enough is Enough” rally criticized Jindal’s stand on Medicaid but also other policies involving the budget, charity hospitals, higher education funding and the public schools overhaul that passed the Legislature last year.

Dayne Allan Sherman, of Ponchatoula, told the crowd that he had troubles in high school, but was able to rebound by earning college degrees that helped him get a well-paying job as a librarian. But Jindal’s cuts to public colleges and universities, coupled with increased tuition, would have precluded him from attending college now, Sherman said.

“He would have us turn back the clock when only the elite could afford higher education,” Sherman said.

Sophie Kunen told the crowd that in 281/2 days she would turn 26 years old, and under the law, she would no longer be permitted to remain on her parents’ insurance plan.

Her employer doesn’t provide adequate health insurance, she said, so Kunen told the crowd of rushing around to see doctors prior to aging out of her parents’ policy.

She became terrified when asked when she could schedule a follow-up appointment and she realized that she could not.

“I see this all the time,” said Dr. Janet Andrews, of New Orleans and a member of the sign-carrying protesters on the steps. She was wearing a lab coat with tape over the script identifying her hospital because she said she was not allowed by her employer to appear in an official capacity at the rally.

“It’s the follow-up treatment. People who can’t afford insurance can’t make the follow-up appointments,” Andrews said. “If you’re not at death’s door, you don’t get treatment, but does that mean your cancer has to reach stage 4 before anything is done?”

Medical student Gregg Kennedy, of New Orleans, said he finds it frustrating because he entered the profession to help people but sees a lot of uninsured patients turned away.

“Your idealism takes a beating,” Kennedy said.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, would allow states to extend Medicaid coverage to adults making up to 138 percent of the poverty level. Supporters say expansion would allow insurance coverage for people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy insurance on their own.

How many people in Louisiana are uninsured is contested from about 200,000 people, according to opponents of expansion, to about 500,000, according to its supporters.

The federal government will cover the full costs from 2014 to 2016 and require states to pay up to 10 percent after that.

Jindal has criticized the Medicaid system and claims that expanding the rolls of Medicaid could cost about $1.7 billion over the next 10 years.

Supporters of the expansion counter that the state would actually save more than $500 million over the same time period.

Osa Williams, a retired educator from Hammond and mother of a schoolteacher, said she was heartened to see so many people protesting after paying attention to Jindal’s policies, noting that previous rallies attracted few. “We need to take care of the politics,” she said while watching the parade of speakers from the stairs.