Monday, Nov. 4

Monday, Nov. 4

Payday loans trap Louisiana residents in a cycle of debt; More questions about privatization deals; Louisiana Medicaid pays for dead people; Is Louisiana for sale? And From the weekend opinionators. $1.9 million – The amount DHH paid private providers to care for already dead Medicaid patients last year. (Source: The Associated Press)

Payday loans trap Louisiana residents in a cycle of debt
Shawn, a licensed practical nurse in Baton Rouge, took out a $200 payday loan in 2002 when she didn’t have enough money to buy Christmas presents for her kids. But when the loan came due two weeks later, she didn’t have the money to pay it back, so she took out another loan. And then another. It was a vicious cycle of debt that ended up with Shawn paying $1,500 in fees before the original loan was paid back. Shawn, who did not want her last name used by The Advocate, is hardly alone. There are almost 1,000 payday lenders in Louisiana – there are four times as many storefront lenders as McDonald’s restaurant – and they are far less regulated in Louisiana than in states such as Georgia, North Carolina and Arkansas. “Among grassroots groups and in poorer legislative districts, concern is growing in Louisiana about the loans. As early as next year, the Legislature could be asked to tackle the issue, although changes could be tough given how entrenched the payday loan industry is in Louisiana,” The Advocate writes.

Read a recent study on payday lending by Pew Charitable Trusts, or visit LBP’s website, which has a page full of resources on payday loans and their unintended consequences.

More questions about privatization deals
State Treasurer John Kennedy and a key state legislator are raising questions about the transparency surrounding Louisiana’s newly privatized state hospital system. Kennedy and Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said their concerns are sparked by the hundreds of millions of state and federal Medicaid dollars that are now being steered to private operators. According to the Associated Press, “The deals allow for legislative audits of public spending, but they also include sweeping clauses that allow the hospital managers to determine what’s considered public record and what should be kept hidden. … If people seek access to information beyond what the privatized hospitals choose to share, they would be left to expensive legal wrangling to determine what the law and the Jindal administration contracts require.”

Louisiana Medicaid pays for dead people
A new state audit found that a handful of service providers billed Louisiana’s Medicaid program $1.9 million in the 2012-13 budget year to care for people who had already died, the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports. The bulk of the overpayments were to five insurers that oversee the Bayou Health program, while some went to the company Louisiana pays for the Louisiana Behavioral Health Partnership. “’Approximately 53 percent of these payments were for participants who died before the programs began,’ the audit says. DHH’s Medicaid director said the department will seek repayment from the companies by March 31,” the AP reports.

Is Louisiana for sale?
Ethics reforms initiated by Gov. Bobby Jindal have failed to curb the vast amounts of money going into the political process in Louisiana — or the influence that money buys. That’s the conclusion of a new editorial in The editorial announced a new series, “Louisiana Purchased,” based on four-month joint investigation by The Times-Picayune and WVUE Fox 8. The series will launch Tuesday night on Fox 8’s 10 p.m. broadcast and appear again in the Times Picayune Wednesday. Louisiana residents ought to be able to trust that their tax dollars will be spent judiciously. They ought to be able to trust that the state will vigorously enforce its ethics and campaign finance laws. They ought to be able to trust that state regulators will look out for their safety and well-being. As “Louisiana Purchased” will show, they can’t be assured of any of those things.

From the weekend opinionators:
Bob Mann used his column to look at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s new video for the Republican Governors Association, and comes away unimpressed.

“In Jindal’s world, the poor could improve their lives if only they would reject assistance and simply work harder. It’s a creed that often infects people who are wealthy or who spend too much time among the wealthy. They begin to believe this lie: What separates the rich from the poor is their capacity for work. It’s a grotesque and cruel worldview, cloaked in the noble-sounding language of pluck and independence and distinguished by a steadfast belief in the inherent virtue of financial success.”

The Advocate’s Mark Ballard examines Louisiana’s unique prison system, which incarcerates more people, per capita, than any other government on Earth, and concludes that part of the problem lies with the fact that we warehouse low-risk offenders in parish jails run by local sheriffs.

The ones sent to state prisons have specific needs met, such as treatment for drug abuse, anger management or finishing high school. Those ending up in local facilities often have little access to the services that might help convicted criminals change their lives.

$1.9 million – The amount DHH paid private providers to care for already dead Medicaid patients last year. (Source: The Associated Press)

“We do have this unique funding mechanism here that makes it costly for the sheriffs to see their inmate populations possibly decline and that’s one of the things worth looking at,” said Kevin Kane, who heads the New Orleans-based Pelican Institute for Public Policy, the local sponsor of the national study. “I’m not criticizing the sheriffs. But if you incentivize a behavior, you’re going to see more of it.”