BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration scrapped plans Wednesday to shutter Louisiana's Medicaid hospice program in February, meaning the state will continue to provide end-of-life care to people on their death beds who can't afford private insurance.
Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein announced the reversal as hospice program supporters were gathering for a candlelight vigil on the state capitol steps to protest the cut. Greenstein said his department will use federal grant funding to continue the services for the poor and terminally ill.
Cheers went up across the small crowd of people gathered in what they expected to be a somber vigil. Instead, they celebrated.
"I got goose bumps," certified grief counselor and nurse Sue deRada said as she heard the program would be spared.
"End-of-life care is just so vital for everybody. It's sacred. It's one of the most sacred times in people's life next to being born. Why would we abandon people at such a critical time?" said deRada, who works for a hospice service in St. Tammany Parish, 40 miles north of New Orleans.
The cut would have made Louisiana one of only two states that don't pay for hospice care through its Medicaid program, and the plan faced strong resistance from state senators, who were seeking ways to avoid shuttering hospice to new adult recipients on Feb. 1.
Sen. Fred Mills, vice chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, walked into the vigil crowd to deliver the news that the Jindal administration had backed away from plans to close the program.
"The good Lord took care of us today, so we got a fix," Mills, R-Breaux Bridge, told Rhonda Johnson, who works for a Baton Rouge-based hospice provider.
Johnson said cutting the program would have been "throwing away poor people."
"The thought of ever eliminating hospice for poor people is just unreal," she said. "This is a huge victory."
Oklahoma is the only state that doesn't offer hospice care to adults through Medicaid, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
Jindal made a series of budget reductions in mid-December to help close a nearly $166 million deficit in the current fiscal year that ends June 30. Many of the cuts fell on the Department of Health and Hospitals.
Greenstein said when cuts are required to the Medicaid program, only a few optional benefits can be reduced without violating requirements for the state's participation in the program it runs with the federal government. Hospice is an optional program the health department said has been available since 2002.
By using the grant funding, DHH will keep the program running while still saving $1.1 million in state funding this year and an estimated $3.1 million in state funding for the 2013-14 budget year.
The health department intends to make changes to the hospice services to shrink the costs of the care and improve the program, Greenstein said.
"Just turning it back on didn't make sense," he said. "This is going to be something that we're proud of because this going to be more efficient and effective."
More than 5,800 people received hospice services through Louisiana's Medicaid program in the last budget year, according to the health department. Many of those, however, were eligible to receive the end-of-life care through Medicare. About 1,400 received the services in their homes and wouldn't have been eligible through Medicare.
Among the planned changes is a focus on community-based, at-home care, Greenstein said. Nursing home residents will not be eligible for hospice care through Medicaid, though most can get it through Medicare, he said.
MAY 20 This post by blogger CB Forgotston draws parallels between Gov. Bobby Jindal and two individuals he probably doesn't want to be aligned with: President Obama and former governor Edwin Edwards. CB says Jindal's trying to jack up the debt ceiling (an Obama play, according to CB) and buy votes from GOP leges who normally wouldn't go for that (an Edwards play, CB says).
MAY 20 Here's a post in the Baptist Message from an alumnus of Louisiana College. The author, Larry Burgess, calls on the leadership of the private school to take care of some pressing problems. Physical plant issues are critical and unaddressed, some faculty make so little they need government health care, and there is an atmosphere that does not encourage honest discussion, he writes. It's time to get things back in order, he says.
MAY 20 This post in Gambit tells of a benefit concert scheduled to raise money for the 19 people shot during a Mother's Day second line on Frenchmen Street in NOLA. Among them was Gambit blogger Deb Cotton, who spoke frequently about violence in the city and reported on the city's second line culture. Gambit's foundation, along with other NOLA non-profits, also is selling t-shirts to raise money for the victims.
MAY 20 Blogger Robert Mann is critical of the personal interest some legislators take in their work here, sharing the comments one NOLA solon made in explaining his decision to vote against a bill that would require people to stop discriminating against female workers. His wife might lose some salary, so he was going to have to vote against the equal pay bill, Conrad Appel said. Appel and everyone who heard him should have been ashamed, but they weren't, and that's what is wrong in that building, Mann argues.
MAY 20 American Press columnist Jim Beam writes about the budget again here, urging kudos for the House and its efforts to try to fix the budget as opposed to passing on a flawed and messy rubber-stamped document as it usually does. The Senate already is poo-pooing the effort, but instead Senators should be trying to find a way to improve it as well, Beam argues. He also has some predictions in here from LABI and CABL.
MAY 20 Here's a link to the photo gallery from Tulane's graduation this past weekend. Dr. John and Allen Toussaint played together and received honorary degrees. The Dalai Lama was so entranced by their performance he got up from his seat and walked across the stage to stand next to them. He even participated in a second line with his own personal, saffron-colored umbrella. To the graduates, he urged them to think about creating a peaceful, hopeful life and society.
MAY 20 This Picayune story questions the rhetoric of NOLA officials who say the city, aside from having a "murder problem," is safe. The talking points generally are that the criminals are killing each other, but everything else is OK. The police chief there says that even Lafayette is more dangerous than NOLA. But crime experts interviewed here say that NOLA's numbers indicate one of two things: either people are so used to violence they don't report it, or somebody's "fudging the numbers."
MAY 20 The Advocate's Mark Ballard writes about some of the background maneuvering that took place during the development of budget alternatives in the Legislature. From Rep. Joel Robideaux being called a "tax and spend liberal" to robo-call influence, Ballard lets us in on some of the work that happens behind the scenes but usually doesn't make it into the Advocate's daily coverage of the session.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.