By Marsha Shuler
After weeks of budget hearings, members of the public got a chance Tuesday to weigh in on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed health care budget, many of them declaring it lacking.
The House Appropriations Committee heard from a parade of witnesses seeking money for community care of the developmentally disabled and primary care health centers, including those in the New Orleans area serving the working poor.
The witnesses’ appeals were at times personal.
“If we have to continue to wait for (community-based) waiver services Riley might not be here to receive them,” said Rhiannon Traigle, whose 12-year-old son has a fast-moving form of muscular dystrophy.
Other times, witnesses added a pragmatic tone. Not providing funds would cost the state more.
The programs are among the casualties of a $1.6 billion budget hole lawmakers are struggling to close with not much time to do it in. The legislative session must end June 11.
The administration’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 would allocate $9.49 billion to the state Department of Health and Hospitals. Of that amount, $8.2 billion is earmarked for Medicaid — the government health insurance program for the poor and uninsured that covers health care costs of roughly one of every four people living in Louisiana.
But the budget relies on more than $500 million in contingency funding — dollars that rely on such things as conversion of a dozen refundable tax credits to nonrefundable.
For now the cuts are in place throughout the health care budget — not only for developmentally disabled care and health centers but neonatal intensive care and a $142 million shortfall in operational funds to fuel the Jindal administration’s nine LSU hospital private management deals.
Traigle and others asked legislators to lift a spending freeze that’s stopped home and community based services being provided to some 1,000 people with developmental disabilities. They also asked for funding for another 200 slots.
“This would give hope to the 30,000 people on the waiting list” for services that help loved ones stay at home, said Sam Beech, chairwoman of the Citizens with Developmental Disabilities Council. “Some get services after waiting 10 years.”
Community help is a lot less costly than the alternative of nursing homes and other institutions, Beech said.
A delegation from the New Orleans area sought $10 million in state support to keep operations going at 41 clinics that provide medical and mental health care for about 57,000 patients.
The $10 million for the Greater New Orleans Community Health Connection would attract another $16 million in federal funds, said Susan Todd, the group’s executive director. The initiative serves patients in Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemine and St. Bernard parishes.
“It really is a smart business decision,” Todd said.
Without the access to care, the patients who use the clinics will end up in more expensive hospital emergency rooms, said New Orleans Health Department director Charlotte Parent. “It will cost $59 million for emergency room services if we don’t get the $10 million,” she said.
Committee members listened throughout the morning as health care advocates made their pleas. They made no promises.
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.