Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

Census figures on health care, poverty due next week; Hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacists gearing up for November; Battle continues over state employee health plan; Public schools get failing grade

Census figures on health care, poverty due next week
Next week is a big deal for people who care about the facts and figures surrounding poverty and health insurance, as the U.S. Census Bureau will release two major sets of new data. On Tuesday the bureau will release its estimate of how many Americans were without health insurance last year, based on its Current Population Survey (CPS). But because of significant changes that were made to the survey methodology, the 2013 results cannot be compared to previous years. For that reason, the Census Bureau will also release the health insurance data from its American Community Survey (ACS), which is a more comprehensive data set and allows comparisons going back to 2008.

The Tuesday release will also include national-level data on income, poverty and inequality based on the CPS.

On Thursday comes the more comprehensive ACS data, which provides state- and regional-level information about more than 40 demographic, social, economic and housing topics.

To help people make sense of all this information, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has prepared a helpful guide to understanding the poverty and inequality data and a separate primer that explains how to sort through the health insurance figures. Our colleagues at the Michigan League for Public Policy put together a helpful cheat sheet on which data sets are should be used in certain situations.

LBP will have much to say on these topics next week when the surveys are released.


Hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacists gearing up for November
LaPolitics Weekly reports that three powerful trade groups — the Louisiana Hospital Association, the Louisiana Nursing Home Association and the Louisiana Pharmacists Association — are planning a statewide media campaign to promote a pair of constitutional amendments on the November ballot that would protect funding for some Medicaid services at the expense of others.

Opponents of Amendment 1, which protects nursing home funding, fear it would make it more difficult for the elderly and disabled to stay in their homes by making those services vulnerable to budget cuts. It also would give the state less flexibility in dealing with future budget shortfalls.

The invaluable Public Affairs Research Council has a complete rundown of all 14 ballot measures in its Guide to the 2014 Constitutional Amendments, which was published this week.


Battle continues over state employee health plan
The debate continues to rage about the impact of changes proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal to the health plans offered to state employees, which will raise out-of-pocket costs for workers and retirees starting next year. The latest missive comes from state Rep. Ted James of Baton Rouge, whose letter to The Advocate blames the administration for burning through a reserve fund in the Office of Group Benefits, which now means higher costs for rank-and-file state employees.

The full truth is these changes will raise the health insurance costs for 232,000 state employees, retirees and dependents in the form of higher deductibles, higher co-payments and higher out-of-pocket maximums. The new scheme also eliminates ‘out of network’ payments; if you’re forced to use a provider outside the plan, you pay the entire cost.”

Administration officials have said the health plan needs to be “right sized” and that employees will get better benefits at lower costs. They also have complained that Louisiana offers some of the most generous, or “richest,” health benefits in the country to its employees. This argument is undercut, however, by data compiled by the Legislative Fiscal Office, which found that current plans offered by OGB cover 89 percent of health costs, with employees paying the rest, compared to a national average of 92 percent. Once the new plans take effect in January, the employee share is expected to rise even farther.


Public schools get failing grade
In a report card released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Louisiana received an “F” in postsecondary and workforce readiness: “Louisiana earns a failing grade preparing its students for college and careers. Only 5 students out of 100 pass an AP exam, the second-lowest figure in the nation.”

The Chamber also flunked Louisiana on return on investment, “Student achievement in Louisiana is very low relative to state spending after controlling for cost of living” and academic achievement, “Student performance in Louisiana is very weak—the state ranks among the lowest in the nation. Fourth graders stand a full 16 percentage points below the national average of 42% for students at or above the proficient level on the NAEP math exam”. does its best to make everyone feel a little better about the rankings: “Louisiana did see some gains. Scores went up on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2013, especially for low-income and minority students. But compared to other states, Louisiana was still at the bottom. The state’s 2013 Advanced Placement pass rate was worse than any state except Mississippi.


Number of the Day:
– The percent of Louisiana public school students proficient in reading and math compared with an international standard. (Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce)