Nursing homes give millions in campaign cash, benefit from state politics
The nursing home industry has quietly joined the oil and gas industry, gambling and utilities on the list of Louisiana’s largest campaign contributors to Gov. Bobby Jindal and state legislators, which has increased the industry’s influence with the policymakers who control how much state funding goes toward nursing homes expenses each year. That’s the takeaway from the latest installment in the NOLA.com and WVUE Fox 8 News series on campaign finance. The news outlets report that the largest benefactors of the industry’s support have helped keep Medicaid payments to the nursing homes stable while reducing spending for other health-care sectors. Lawmakers have also approved a funding formula that results in taxpayers paying nursing homes for empty beds. While Department of Health and Hospitals officials would not confirm the total amount paid for empty beds, Nola.com and WVUE report that it was more than $23 million as recently as 2010.
State cuts funds to levee authority that sued oil and gas companies
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has withdrawn the $500,000 in annual funding allocated to the East Bank levee authority that filed suit recently against 97 oil and gas companies for their role in decimating the state’s fragile wetlands. As The Lens reports, both Jindal and Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority head Garret Graves have condemned the lawsuit. Graves told The Advocate that the state support was never meant to be permanent, and that money is being redirected to newer levee boards. But members of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East believe the cut was motivated by the administration’s strong opposition to the suit, and said the budget cut will not stop it from moving forward.
Louisiana students score poorly in national test
Despite recent improvements in math and reading test scores, Louisiana continues to rank at or near the bottom of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. According to a new report by the U.S. Department of Education, Louisiana’s score on the National Assessment of Educational Progress is well below the national average, with the state’s 4th graders tied for 50th in math and 48th in reading, while 8th graders are tied for 48th in both categories. In addition, performance gains have remained virtually flat in recent years. State Superintendent of Education John White said the performance scores reflect Louisiana’s need to adopt the Common Core standards, telling Nola.com, The growth this year was moderate. If we want to see something beyond incremental growth, we’ve got to raise our standards, and the Common Core standards is the best way to do that.
Louisiana ranks among least competitive for health insurers
Large health insurance companies that operate with few competitors can take advantage of their patients by raising premiums and dictating important aspects of patient care. That’s one reason why American Medical Association president Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven believes states with one or two insurance companies that dominate the market can hurt patients, physicians and employers. Louisiana fits within this group. The Pelican State ranks ninth in the AMA’s annual list of states with low competition among health insurers. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana controls 57 percent of the market. UnitedHealthCare had the second-largest share at 19 percent.
Louisiana ranks 48th on “Opportunity Index”
Louisiana is the second worst state in the nation for creating opportunities to live the American Dream, according to the Opportunity Index. The rating scale developed by Boston-based nonprofit Opportunity Nation builds upon the widely popular business climate ratings by taking into account factors beyond tax policies and business incentives. These additional factors include poverty, inequality, affordable housing, preschool enrollment, high school graduation rates, access to healthy food and participation in membership organizations. St. Tammany Parish received the highest local index score, followed by Orleans Parish, Lafayette Parish and Cameron Parish.