- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Dec. 12

The Lake Charles American Press on mental health in Louisiana:

Louisiana recently received a poor ranking from a national mental health group.

According to a story in Baton Rouge’s Advocate, the state ranks 47th on the survey of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia “for states with the highest prevalence of mental illness and the lowest rates of access to care.” Ranking below Louisiana are Washington, Nevada, Mississippi and Arizona.

Fortunately, Gov. Bobby Jindal was already aware of the need for improvement in mental health services, and his administration is launching “a new approach to its behavioral health services through the state Medicaid program,” according to the story.

“No longer will one private company manage the care of Medicaid patients with drug addiction, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and other behavioral health problems,” reads the story. “Their care will be covered by the five insurance companies the state pays to manage the medical care of about 980,000 out of the state’s 1.4 million Medicaid enrollees.

“With the expansion of services, the insurance companies will be overseeing 1.09 million Medicaid patients at a projected cost of $4.33 billion.”

Dr. Darrel Montgomery, who worked on the transition for the state health agency, told The Advocate: “You treat the whole person from head to toe. It will be in their best interest to have one managed care entity to manage all care.” Brittany Howard, director of the Mental Health Association of Louisiana, told The Advocate: “It’s the merger of physical and mental health we believe that’s actually going to help our consumers because it’s going to increase their access to care.”

The Medicaid changeover has gone into effect and is Gov. Jindal’s latest privatization of Medicaid. “The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is encouraging states to adopt that approach because medical problems can cause behavioral health issues and vice-versa,” reads The Advocate story.

“Eight other states have embarked on variations of the program but the report cards on their successes and failures aren’t in yet.”

Hopefully this new approach will work for Louisianians with mental illness.

Online:

http://www.americanpress.com

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Dec. 15

The Advocate on funding higher education in Louisiana:

Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards has a big challenge ahead to restore the holes in higher education left by outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal.

We are confident that his knowledge of the issue, gained in eight years on the House Education Committee, will serve him in good stead in dealing with the Legislature next year.

A transition team of advisers has practitioners of long experience, including Joseph Savoie, former commissioner of high education and current president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and Carolyn Hargrave, formerly a top LSU administrator.

The team includes names like Sean Reilly, a business leader and former legislator, and outside experts include Barry Erwin, of the Council for a Better Louisiana. The group is chaired by former state official Kim Hunter Reed.

The governor-elect has fought Jindal cuts to higher education for years.

The budget problems that crippled colleges during Jindal’s terms are still with us.

Many of the solutions to be recommended will depend on a larger budget deal that makes money available to restore the cuts of the Jindal years. In the campaign, Edwards talked about a 50-50 goal, meaning that half of colleges’ funds would come from tuition and fees and half from state support. That would require millions in new funding and it is a goal that will require several years to achieve, most likely.

The recommendations of Blueprint Louisiana, the business policy group, included not only greater support for colleges but an insistence on maintaining high academic standards.

“Unfortunately, the deep cuts to higher education in recent years are tempting Louisiana leaders to lower admission standards to instantly create new paying customers for some campuses,” Blueprint warned this year. “This is a mistake, albeit a well-intentioned one, that could begin to reverse student performance gains and expose unprepared students with academic failure and burdensome student loan debts.”

That’s not all. Blueprint’s agenda called for more freedom of colleges to control their own expenses, such as buying and selling equipment or property, than in the restrictive state purchasing system. It also favored college boards to have more control of tuition and fees, something that’s a political hot potato in the Legislature.

The state also ought to “establish a process that empowers higher education systems to consolidate and/or realign programs and campuses and retain savings achieved to strengthen their right-sized campuses and programs,” Blueprint said. Translated, that means downsizing regional campuses that are now having difficulty keeping enrollment up in many programs. Politically, that’s tough.

Blueprint’s past chairman, Dr. Philip Rozeman, of Shreveport, is also on the transition team. We hope his colleagues listen.

As much as anything, these proposals represent hard-headed and nonpolitical thinking about the future.

Edwards is absolutely right: Cutting higher education is not a path to progress. But if the state restores its financial commitment to higher education, the taxpayer has to be assured that the money is spent efficiently and is paying for quality.

Online:

http://www.theadvocate.com

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Dec. 13

The Courier on Congress’ newly approved transportation bill:

Congress’ newly approved transportation bill offers a little - not a lot - of hope that two major road needs could be addressed, maybe even in our lifetimes.

Residents, including politicians and business leaders, have long pushed for upgrades to La. 1 and conversion of U.S. 90 to I-49.

The problem, as always, is that both projects will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and neither the state nor Congress has come up with the money.

The latest bill, approved just over a week ago, boosts highway and transit spending over the next five years to total $305 billion nationwide. It doesn’t include as much money or last as long as many lawmakers and the Obama administration would have liked. Nor does it resolve how to pay for transportation programs in the long term, including I-49 between Lafayette and New Orleans and upgrading La. 1 from U.S. 90 to southern Lafourche and the Gulf of Mexico oilfield hub at Port Fourchon.

Area congressmen do say, however, that the two projects are likely to benefit.

Here’s how. The bill creates the National Significant Freight and Highway Projects program. It will provide $4.5 billion over five years in competitive grants for projects costing at least $100 million. And an amendment by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, whose district includes northern Terrebonne and Lafourche, allows the federal government to use that money, in part, for projects to improve “energy security.”

Both U.S. 90 and La. 1, as locals are well aware, are major corridors for materials and workers serving the Gulf of Mexico oilfield. La. 1 alone, as the only land route to Port Fourchon, is integral to the estimated 18 percent of U.S. oil that comes from the Gulf of Mexico.

Both roads are also the major hurricane evacuation route for the more than 200,000 people who live in Terrebonne and Lafourche, and about a million other people across south Louisiana.

“We’re well positioned in applying for those funds,” said Henri Boulet, executive director of the La. 1 Coalition, a group that has long lobbied for money to improve the road, parts of which are eroding into marshes and prone to regular flooding. “There are several provisions we’re extremely grateful for that will put La. 1 in the competitive application process.”

A big shortcoming in the bill, though, is how it’s all financed. The main source of revenue is the federal highway trust fund, which comes mostly from the 18.4-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax. That tax hasn’t been raised since 1993, though transportation spending has increased. But raising the gas tax is viewed by many lawmakers as too politically risky.

If Congress and states can show residents clear progress on long-awaited and much-needed roadwork like La. 1 and I-49, that might make raising the gas tax an easier sell. And both Congress and the Louisiana Legislature must come up with a long-term solution for dealing with an unacceptable backlog of billions of dollars in road maintenance as well as new construction.

For now, however, there is a glimmer of hope that two of the area’s most critical highways might get at least some of the money they need to move forward.

Online:

http://www.houmatoday.com

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