Privatization causes unexpected cost increases for some hospitals
Last year’s closure of the Earl K. Long Medical Center in north Baton Rouge, the region’s hub for charity care, has had dramatic effects on other hospitals in the city, according to a new report by WRKF-FM. At the Baton Rouge General Hospital’s mid-city campus, patient volume is up 44 percent and the cost of caring for patients who cannot pay has climbed to more than $10 million, with only a small portion covered by state and federal reimbursements. Up the road, however, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center has all of its indigent care costs covered by the state. “I think that what this has brought to light, though, is that the charitable care — particularly at the Mid-City campus — has gotten to a point where it is not sustainable,” Baton Rouge General’s vice president Dionne Viator said. And the situation is only set to get worse as federal dollars for uninsured care are set to decrease under the Affordable Care Act.
How could the state help? It could spread uncompensated-care payments more evenly among providers. But a better long-term solution would be to accept federal dollars to expand health coverage to low-income Louisianans. Expansion not only would help hospitals, since they would get paid for the care they are currently giving away for free, but would be a boon to residents, businesses and the state budget. In addition, it would help local businesses avoid a federal tax hike next year.
Mental health services decline even as they improve the lives of the homeless
The stories of K9 and Dr. Love, two homeless men struggling with mental illness, were highlighted in a gripping story in the Times-Picayune. Both men are now living in apartments of their own with the help of public services. But such services, like many other areas that should be prioritized by the state, are getting squeezed out by budget cuts while state lawmakers continue to eschew any efforts to raise revenue. “(M)any of those suffering from mental illness in New Orleans are sent to Orleans Parish Prison. It is estimated that 45 percent of OPP’s daily population has indicated they have some form of mental illness, according to the 2012 health department report. ‘The lack of resources to adequately address behavioral needs in OPP, the emergency department and the coroner’s office is an ongoing concern in the community,’ the report said. ‘These entities lack staff and resources that would assist them in providing high quality services.’”
40,000 Louisianans qualify for health subsidies
Louisiana residents have claimed $43 million in tax credits under the Affordable Care Act, according to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. An average of $3,610 per enrollee is available to 40,000 Louisianans. Nationwide, more than 6 million people have signed up for health care.
But the Kaiser study also warned people to be wary of national numbers, according to the New York Times. Indeed, a review of state-by-state enrollment data and other research, as well as interviews with patients, advocates, health policy analysts, elected officials, supporters and critics of the Affordable Care Act, suggest that, for consumers at least, the state of health care under the national law depends almost entirely on where a person lives.
Residents shifting focus from state economy to education
For the first time since 2008, more Louisiana residents identify education than the economy as the biggest problem facing the state, according to a new poll from the LSU Public Policy Research Lab. “This is the first time that education surpassed economy as the state’s most pressing concern since 2008,” says Amy Reynolds, director of the Reilly Center and associate dean of graduate studies at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication. “Together with the rest of our findings, this suggests that residents’ views of Louisiana priorities are shifting overall.”
Perhaps the shift comes as residents realize that funding for early childhood education, K-12 education and higher education have all declined significantly in recent years, while the costs of cushy tax exemptions for specific businesses and industries have increased consistently.
A Nation of Takers?
Speaking of unbalanced tax exemptions, Nicholas Kristof takes a look at some of the more egregious examples in the New York Times. Some highlights: exemptions for private planes, yachts and more than $80 billion a year in subsidies to companies, mostly as incentives to operate locally.
Bill would help homeless parents get child care
Arizona resident Shanesha Taylor was homeless, and finally had a job interview. Unfortunately, she had no one to watch her six-month-old and two-year-old children while she went to the interview, and ended up leaving them in the car. Now, she has lost her children and faces criminal charges. “‘She was upset,’ Sargent Mark Clark, Public Information Officer for Scottsdale Police, told WFSB. ‘This is a sad situation all around. She said she was homeless, she needed the job. Obviously, not getting the job. So it’s just a sad situation.’”
Here in Louisiana, families face bad choices like this on a daily basis, but a new bill might help ease their strain. The Improving Access to Childcare for Homeless Louisiana Families Act of 2014 would allow homeless parents to gain access to funds designed to provide access to child care for low-income families. Currently, parents must show proof they are employed to access the funds. The bill would add an exemption for homeless parents who are looking for work.