Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday, April 17, 2015

Is this the year for a cigarette tax?; Medical schools running out of cash; Baton Rouge hospital trouble continues; and Louisiana needs to invest in youngest citizens


Is this the year for a cigarette tax?

Louisiana has the third lowest cigarette tax in the nation at 36 cents a pack, and it has been stuck there since 2002. The last major push to increase the tax ran into stiff opposition from Gov. Bobby Jindal, who went so far as to veto a renewal of 4 cents of the tax. But things may be different this year, with the state facing a $1.6 billion deficit. Melinda Deslatte with the Associated Press reports:


As lawmakers look to raise new money to plug a $1.6 billion budget hole, at least 10 tobacco tax measures have been filed for debate. Even Gov. Bobby Jindal has shown a willingness to consider a cigarette tax hike, through a complicated maneuver that would help steer more money to public colleges without a net increase in taxes.


Five health advocacy organizations – including the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association – have rallied behind a bill by Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, to raise Louisiana’s cigarette tax from 36 cents per pack to $1.54, the national average.The measure, which could generate $250 million annually, is scheduled for consideration in the House Ways and Means Committee next week.


The measure still faces opposition, specifically from the tobacco industry and convenience store owners. But the evidence is clear that a stronger cigarette tax is not just a revenue-raiser, but a solid investment in public health that will reduce the number of smokers, cut long-term health costs for taxpayers and save lives, as LBP explained in a recent report.


Medical schools running out of cash

The leaders of Louisiana’s two public medical schools–in New Orleans and Shreveport–pleaded to the Senate Finance Committee for help yesterday as they struggle to manage the “legacy costs” they’ve been saddled with since the Jindal administration chose to privatize the LSU-run charity hospitals, according to the Associated Press.


The private managers that took control of the LSU hospitals and clinics didn’t take on the liabilities associated with former and retired hospital employees. Millions of dollars in those costs are expected year after year. Medical school leaders — Larry Hollier from the New Orleans school and Robert Barish from the Shreveport school — told the Senate Finance Committee that they’ve burned through cash reserves covering the expenses. “There’s no way we can absorb the legacy costs and survive,” said Hollier, chancellor of the LSU Health Sciences Center-New Orleans.


Those costs–related to insurance, retirees and maintenance–total $56 million in the upcoming budget year. Dr. Frank Opelka, who oversees health care for LSU, said a plan to cover those costs with federal Medicaid dollars had fallen through.


State Sen. Sherri Buffington, R-Keithville, asked what happens if the medical schools are forced to absorb those costs. “The term bankruptcy comes to mind,” Hollier replied.


Baton Rouge hospital trouble continues
Louisiana’s medical schools aren’t the only ones struggling with the fallout from the Jindal administration’s health policy. Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, which took over charity care in Baton Rouge when Earl K Long hospital closed in 2013, is also facing new troubles. Marsha Shuler with the Advocate has the details:


Initially, the Lake projected it would need $7.4 million in additional funds above the standstill level in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. But the projected shortfall has doubled in recent weeks, largely because of the closure of Baton Rouge General Mid City’s emergency room, [OLOL chief Scott] Wester said during a meeting of The Advocate’s editorial board. Wester said the Lake has had to invest more dollars into expanding hours at LSU Health’s urgent care clinic in the area to give access to patients who once showed up at the Mid City ER. “There’s much more need on the ambulatory side,” Wester said…the Lake’s emergency room use is up 10 percent since the General’s Mid City emergency room closed March 31.


The ongoing troubles with the charity privatization are further evidence the Louisiana needs to move toward a 21st century coverage expansion model. The governor’s alternative–to keep hundreds of thousands of people uninsured and leave health care in Louisiana stuck in the 20th century–is not working. Loyal readers of the Dime are probably sick of hearing us say it, but it bears repeating: Medicaid expansion is the responsible path forward.


Louisiana needs to invest in youngest citizens

Louisiana passed an overhaul of early childhood education in 2012, known as Act 3. Unfortunately, the governor and the legislature have yet to find the money to fund it. That’s a mistake, says the Times-Picayune editorial board, citing evidence from Ready Louisiana, a coalition of more than 20 groups pushing for early childhood funding.


Those first few years of a child’s life are vital. “When a child’s brain develops, that 0 to 4 period, it’s like a sponge,” Charmaine Caccioppi, the United Way’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, says in the video. High quality preschool and childcare give youngsters the best hope to “excel to their highest potential,” she says. GNO Inc. President and CEO Michael Hecht argues that early childhood education is directly linked to the work force needs for the future. Ready Louisiana — which includes the Committee of 100 for Economic Development, League of Women Voters, Louisiana Budget Project, Stand for Children and other civic groups — has an ambitious goal. The groups want the state to invest $208 million in early childhood education by 2020.


According to the Department of Education, $80 million is needed next budget year for Act 3. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget doesn’t include a penny.


Number of the Day


$250 million – Amount of annual revenue Louisiana would gain by increasing the cigarette tax to the national average of $1.54 a pack (Source: Associated Press)