At second line for health care, doctors and nurses speak out for Affordable Care Act



Who fears the loss of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)? The previously uninsured, of course, including the more than 300,000 Louisianans who gained coverage under last year's expansion of the state's Medicaid program.

But at a rally and second line held March 18 in support of the act sometimes known as Obamacare, another key constituency spoke out in the program's defense. One after another, health care providers took the mic in front of City Hall to describe the ACA's positive effect on their patients.

"Before the expansion, my patients were often uninsured and lived in fear of a new medical diagnosis," Jason Halperin, a doctor who works with CrescentCare, said. "I see the Medicaid expansion as much more than a card or number. ... Most of all, it upholds dignity."


Jamilah Y. Peters-Muhammad, who serves as the outreach nurse for the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic, explained how the ACA covers many of the city's musicians and culture bearers who previously struggled with medical bills and medications — a theme echoed by several other speakers. She called for Congress to offer a plan for all Americans that matches the caliber of the insurance that covers representatives and their families, rather than the recently proposed (and much-criticized) American Health Care Act (AHCA).

In the crowd of protesters, signs reflected the presence of concerned health care providers and their misgivings about the potential ACA repeal. A woman in scrubs held a sign that said "Nursing Students 4 Health Equity;" another sign included a wonky statement about lifetime coverage caps, which were banned by the ACA. It was genuinely striking to see and hear so many doctors, nurses and health care advocates, who sometimes are accused of being out of touch with patients about the high cost of care, speaking up for the program.


Wearing a lab coat and a "black lives matter" wristband, CrescentCare nurse Christiane Geisler told Gambit about another group who depends on the recent Medicaid expansion: the growing number of people in Louisiana with HIV. She fears for people with HIV and AIDS who need a wide variety of secondary services, such as dental care and mental health programs, which often weren't covered before the ACA's implementation.

The mosaic artist Paul Michael Bauman, who chairs the NO/AIDS Task Force allocation committee, agreed.

"A lot of my brothers and sisters need this this kind of care so they can stay undetectable [referring to levels of the virus in the bloodstream]," he said. "Undoing the ACA is just abominable and unreasonable."


Between 100 and 150 people attended the event organized by 504HealthNet, which supports community health care centers serving vulnerable populations. Executive director Susan Todd said the event was designed to draw attention to the cascading consequences of the potential loss of the ACA, including coverage losses, the flooding of emergency rooms with uninsured patients and even more dire effects.

"You're looking at losing coverage for people who are really living in poverty and working families. ... If we take steps backwards and lose health care coverage, people will die," she said.


As the rally concluded, participants fell in line behind the six-piece Soul Brass Band to second line to St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. Some waved handkerchiefs and held parasols as the second line proceeded down Loyola Avenue to Basin Street and then through the redevelopment of the former Iberville housing projects. The march turned at one point toward a view of the hulking remains of Charity Hospital, a much-missed piece of public health care in the city.

Geisler, the nurse, says America needs more programs that serve the indigent, not fewer. She sees the ACA as a necessary stepping stone on the way to universal health care, as in her native France.

"I do not understand in a rich country like this country, why people do not see health care as a right," she said. "I think people will be remembered for who stood up for the vulnerable."

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