- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana’s health department on Friday refused to say what services it proposes to eliminate or scale back if Gov. Bobby Jindal demands deep budget cuts to close a $1.6 billion state funding gap.

The agency refused to provide any documents about possible cut scenarios, in response to a public records request filed by The Associated Press. The department claimed records, spreadsheets and emails discussing the cuts were shielded, saying they fall under a public records exemption because they were offering guidance to Jindal.

“DHH contends that these records are exempted from disclosure under the (public records law) for a period of six months from date of creation as pre-decisional advice and recommendations of a department headed by an unclassified gubernatorial appointee,” department lawyer Michael Coleman wrote.

Spending on services that take care of Louisiana’s poor, elderly and disabled could fall by as much as $800 million in lost state and federal funding for the year that begins July 1, under the scenarios up for consideration by the Jindal administration. The cuts are even steeper than the budget slashing that is worrying higher education officials.

Ask the state Department of Health and Hospitals how it would divvy up such large reductions and agency officials refuse to describe which services might be on the chopping block, instead answering only with generalities.

“Everything is on the table, and we’re looking at every piece of the program to see what we can do to meet the cut that is required of us,” said Jeff Reynolds, undersecretary for the department.

The governor will present his recommendations for closing the $1.6 billion gap in the upcoming fiscal year to lawmakers on Feb. 27.

The Jindal administration has said the health department faces a cut of up to $300 million in state financing. If all those cuts hit Medicaid programs that generate federal matching money, the slashing would be as much as $793 million to programs and services.

The Department of Health and Hospitals has a $9.5 billion budget this year.

Reynold said it’s premature to detail what services could be eliminated or scaled back with such a reduction, because he said DHH has offered an array of different proposals to Jindal’s office for consideration, depending on the size and placement of the cut.

“Whatever reductions that end up, we’re doing our best to protect services. But that is a large amount,” he said. Asked for possible scenarios, Reynolds replied: “It would be pure speculation.”

Health care providers are getting nervous about the depth of what could be coming.

“Louisiana is facing one of the worst budget years in recent history, and once again, patients’ access to health care is in jeopardy,” Louisiana Hospital Association President Paul Salles said in a written statement.

Hospitals’ payments from the state for taking care of Medicaid patients and the uninsured have been cut more than 26 percent since 2009, according to Salles, who said patients already have trouble accessing services.

He said the steep cuts under consideration would lead to layoffs, emergency room closures, service reductions and more difficulty for patients to get care.

“Cuts of this magnitude are short-sighted,” Salles said.


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