Friday, January 23, 2013

Friday, January 23, 2013

Health care on the chopping block; Could the Post Office be the answer to the payday lending problem?; Supreme Court ruling could hit Southern states hard; and New Orleans bans indoor smoking


Health care on the chopping block

It’s not just colleges and universities that could be feeling the pinch from Louisiana’s latest fiscal crisis. The Advocate’s Marsha Shuler reports that health care services could being facing cuts of up to $700 million next fiscal year.


Officials in the state Department of Health and Hospitals have been told to save $200 million to $250 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. That translates to a $600 million to a $700 million cut because the money is used as “matching dollars” that draw down funding from the federal government, which pays most of the bills for the state’s health care programs…DHH has three basic options when cuts are required in the state’s Medicaid program, former state Medical Director Don Gregory said. They are: reductions in the payments doctors, hospitals and other health care providers receive; elimination of optional services, such as hospice and adult dentures; and removing optional populations, he said.


The bulk of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) resources go toward providing care to children, pregnant women and people with disabilities who are covered by Medicaid and LaCHIP. In recent years, the Jindal administration has contracted with private insurance companies to manage those patients, which could complicate the budget process because the rates paid to the insurance companies must be certified by actuaries and the contracts would need to be amended, according to Gregory. Cuts could also cause problems at Louisiana’s newly privatized charity hospitals.


The need for cuts would be lessened if the administration had agreed to expand Medicaid, which would have brought in billions in new federal dollars and reduced the need for state support. Not to mention the fact that more than 200,000 low-income Louisiana adults would have the type of health security that most of us take for granted.


Could the Post Office be the answer to the payday lending problem?

A new report from United for a Fair Economy offers a solution to the costly problem of predatory lending: the Post Office. The Daily Kos reports:


Nearly 17 million American adults live in households where no one has a checking account; more than 50 million more have a checking account, but also have to rely on things like payday lenders and check cashing stores, according to a new report from United for a Fair Economy. These numbers include more than half of black households and nearly half of Latino households, and it takes a huge toll: these overwhelmingly low-income households spend around $3,000 a year—more than 10 percent of the total annual income for many—on interest and fees to predatory fringe lenders, adding up to $103 billion a year nationwide. But there’s an easy answer to make affordable, reliable banking services available to most of these people: postal banking.


As the group explains in a press release, With over 31,000 branches and a high level of trust among the public, post offices, which already perform some financial services through money orders and international money transfers and used to offer savings accounts from 1911-1967, can fill the need for affordable banking alternatives by providing debit cards, savings accounts and even small loans.


Supreme Court ruling could hit Southern states hard

The Supreme Court will consider a case this year that could take away tax credits for health insurance in states such as Louisiana that refused to set up their own online marketplace as part of the Affordable Care Act. The New York Times’ Upshot blog reports on a new analysis from the Urban Institute that estimates the damage:


A ruling for the challengers could mean that residents of more than 30 states would lose subsidies…The new Urban study finds that the biggest regional loser from the court case would be the South. More than 60 percent of people who would lose their individual health insurance live there. Among different income groups, the largest reductions would come for those earning between 200 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level — or between about $40,000 and $80,000 for a family of three. Forty-seven percent of the people who would lose insurance have full-time jobs, and 34 percent have part-time jobs. Sixty-one percent are white. Forty-seven percent have attended at least some college. Ninety-two percent would probably describe their health as better than fair.


The case, King vs. Burwell, has been pushed by far-right and libertarian activists and is based on a peculiar reading of the law that many say is not supported by the legislative record.


New Orleans bans indoor smoking

Surprising many, the New Orleans City Council unanimously passed a fairly comprehensive smoking ban yesterday that will end smoking in the city’s bars, casino, hotels, stadiums and poker halls, reports Tobacco shops and hookah bars are exempt. Smoking in restaurants has been banned since 2007 under a separate statewide law. In the end, the public health argument about the dangers of secondhand smoke prevailed, a position the Times-Picayune’s editorial board seconded.


The vote is especially important for musicians, bartenders, waiters and others who have been inhaling secondhand smoke on the job. While customers can choose to avoid businesses that allow smoking, it is not so simple to quit a job and find another where the air isn’t toxic.


$700 million
Potential cut to health care next budget year (Source: The Advocate)