Two years ago, Donna Risso and her friend Michael were living under a bridge in New Orleans. They were struggling not only with homelessness, but also with Donna’s mounting health problems, which included hepatitis C, cirrhosis of the liver, encephalitis, pancreatitis and chronic anemia. Donna was a “frequent flyer” at the emergency room, often five to 10 times a month, but her health was getting steadily worse.
Social workers using federal and state resources helped Donna find housing and got her on a state program called “disability Medicaid,” which covers health care costs for people who meet federal disability criteria but are not yet on the federal program. This important initiative, common in many states, is a bridge to health services for people applying for federal benefits, which can take years.
Although the program was a lifesaver for Donna, Gov. Bobby Jindal terminated “disability Medicaid” in Louisiana as of Jan. 1, leaving 9,200 people across the state with no coverage.
Photo: An outreach team from Unity Of Greater New Orleans counsels a homeless man on housing options, January 2011. © 2011 AP Photo/Gerald Herbert