- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Private hospitals said Wednesday that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget proposal would shutter a program that cares for sickly babies and cut money they are paid for emergency room care for Medicaid patients.

The Louisiana Hospital Association said those $25 million in cuts are included in Jindal’s spending recommendations for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The Jindal administration described its budget as containing no reductions to the rates hospitals are paid for taking care of Medicaid patients. But hospital association president Paul Salles disagreed after taking a deeper dive into the numbers.

“We heard during the budget presentation there were no rate cuts to hospitals, and on further examination there are rate and funding cuts to hospitals,” Salles said.

Targeted for elimination by Jindal is a program that pays hospitals for the care of premature, low-birth-weight babies. The governor also proposes to pay a lower reimbursement rate for Medicaid patients who go to emergency rooms with nonemergency medical needs - a proposal that lawmakers rejected from the Jindal administration last year.

State Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert defended the governor’s plan.

“Our responsibility as we build the budget is to look at the big picture of all programs and make sure we’re keeping critical services intact,” she said.

Kliebert said she will continue negotiating with the hospitals, describing the proposals as “efficiencies.” But she acknowledged that reshuffling without additional money would just move cuts elsewhere.

In addition to the $25 million in cuts, Salles said the hospital association was concerned that Jindal’s budget included millions of dollars less than what private operators of the state-owned hospitals said they need to provide care for the poor and uninsured next year.

Also a worry, Salles said, is that $368 million that would flow to hospital programs next year is tied to Jindal’s proposal to scale back spending on certain tax-credit programs. The proposal has run into sharp criticism from business lobbying groups and is not guaranteed to win legislative approval.

Lawmakers will craft a final version of next year’s budget in the legislative session that begins April 13, using Jindal’s proposal as a starting point.

“The budget was just introduced and this is the beginning of the process. We are working with hospitals on a solution,” said Meghan Parrish, spokeswoman for Jindal’s Division of Administration.

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