Health

Why Louisiana Is Facing A Health Care Disaster

CREDIT: AP

On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court hears a case that if successful, could strip away health insurance from millions of people who depend on federal subsidies.

But Louisiana Governor and likely presidential candidate Bobby Jindal says he welcomes such a ruling, telling reporters at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference: “When the subsidies go away, the individual mandate goes away, the employer mandate goes away. That’s a great thing. That’s a tax cut.”

But the impact of this “tax cut” could be dire in Louisiana. Because Jindal has refused to set up a state health care exchange or expand Medicaid, as many as 250,000 Louisianans could lose their coverage.

The damage could be exacerbated if the state legislature approves the budget Jindal released last week. Faced with a $1.6 billion budget shortfall and unwilling to raise any taxes, the Governor’s new proposal would further slash spending from an already struggling state health care system. Louisiana’s hospitals say they need a $142 million increase in funding to be able to serve the population — especially the poor and uninsured who turn to emergency rooms for primary health care. Instead, Jindal’s budget cuts funding for the Department of Health and Hospitals by nearly $15 million.

Soon, these cuts will have a real impact. In less than a month, the emergency room at Baton Rouge General Hospital — which saw more than 45,000 patients last year — will close its doors. Urgent care clinics in the area are currently scrambling to expand in time to take on those additional patients. And if the legislature can’t find about $10 million in funding, a network of health clinics that serves about 60,000 New Orleans-area residents will also shut down.

“Some folks think just the uninsured will be impacted, but folks all over the city will be impacted by longer wait times in the ER,” Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) told ThinkProgress, noting that the city lost another major charity hospital in 2013. “We’ve seen frustrated doctors and nurses and people suffering because of lack of services in the North Baton Rouge area. The clinics that will try to take on the new patients, some of them only have nurses and physicians assistants, and our folks deserve to see doctors when they have an emergency.”

Had Jindal accepted the Medicaid expansion, federal dollars specifically earmarked for hospitals that serve low-income populations like Baton Rouge General would have flowed into the state and possibly kept the emergency room open and running.

“To deny millions of federal dollars and coverage to our people just because the Governor wants to be president is an outrage,” James said. “I will continue to advocate for Medicaid expansion because it’s the common-sense moral and fiscal response.”

James and other lawmakers are blasting the other provisions in the Governor’s budget — including deep cuts to the state’s coastal protection programs, higher education and mental health care that would result in the loss of 727 state employees.

Meanwhile, Jindal continues to promote the Obamacare alternative he released last spring that would eliminate the tax break for employer-provided health coverage — a move estimated to kick more than 2 million Americans off their insurance plan. His plan is premised on a full-repeal of the Affordable Care Act — something Republican Party leaders have admitted isn’t a likely scenario. Jindal has blasted fellow Republicans pushing more modest tweaks to the Affordable Care Act as “cheap liberals.”