Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Medicaid expansion moving forward; Gov-elect ready for special session; Business community wants tax revamp and; Healthy children initiative

Medicaid expansion moving forward
Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards says he will issue an executive order expanding Medicaid within 24 hours of being sworn into office Monday. This is excellent news for an estimated 300,000 Louisianans who could have secure, portable health coverage as early as July 1. Getting from point A to point B does come with challenges, however, as Mark Ballard with The Advocate reports:

 

One of the first comments made by Dr. Rebekah Gee, who was named secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals, was that the new administration would have to hire 248 employees to handle the surge, which is expected to add about 300,000 new enrollees to the government program that already provides health insurance for about 1.4 million Louisiana residents. “This governor,” Gee said, referring to Gov. Bobby Jindal, “has downsized considerably the human resources that we have to tackle big problems.” The new hires will determine eligibility and enroll the new applicants. The federal government would pay 75 percent of Louisiana’s costs for the hires. “So that’s a little more than $2 million that we’ll need to find” to pay the state’s portion of the hiring expenditures, Gee said...For the next few months, Gee said, she will be working out details, such as who will be covered and for what, with the federal government. At the same time, Gee said, she will be working with doctors, hospitals, clinics and other providers about the paperwork, the procedures and possibly about increasing what they are paid for the services they provide Medicaid patients.

 

Stable reimbursements are good news for doctors and hospitals, especially those that see a high number of uninsured patients. Medicaid expansion is also good news for the state budget, given that other states that expanded are saving millions of dollars, as LBP pointed out in a recent commentary.

 

Gov-elect ready for special session

Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards announced that he will release options for fixing Louisiana’s dreadful budget situation in advance of the the special session in February. His hope is that the proposals can be vetted before the three-week session begins. As the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports, lawmakers will have their hands full:

 

Edwards said those proposals will include spending cuts, government efficiencies, the draw-down of more federal money, expanded flexibility to cut protected budget areas and the reduction of state tax breaks. “You’re going to see over the next week to 10 days a number of proposals coming out which really will be a menu of options from which we can choose to bridge the gap,” Edwards said in an interview with The Associated Press, one of several pre-inauguration sit-downs with news media outlets…His incoming administration estimates the state faces a $750 million shortfall in the remaining six months of the $25 billion budget that ends June 30, and a gap more than twice that size next year…The governor-elect said the financial woes are worse than he thought, saying the Jindal administration “for a while now has sugarcoated all of this.”

 

Business community wants tax revamp

The business-friendly group Committee of 100 plans to push ideas for overhauling Louisiana’s tax code and closing the state’s structural deficit. With help from the Tax Foundation, they have released the “Framework for the Future” report. Greg Hilburn of Gannett has more:

 

Among the key suggestions: Unify state and local sales tax collections and eliminate sales tax exemptions on services; Eliminate the state income tax deduction for federal taxes paid; Flatten corporate income tax brackets to a single rate of 5 percent; Repeal the the inventory tax and inventory tax credit; Increase the gas and diesel tax and index it to inflation. “We have to find a way out of this structural deficit,” [the Committee’s chief executive Michael]Olivier said. State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, a certified public accountant, is an advocate of the Committee for 100’s plan and its spokesman during the road show presentations. “It’s time for us to make some really smart decisions,” Stokes said. State Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, and Sen.-elect Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, who served three terms in the House, attended the Ruston event. “We have to find a balance of cuts and raising revenue and common ground on where to move forward,” Walsworth said.

 

Healthy children initiative

An anonymous $250,000 gift to the United Way of Southeast Louisiana is helping to kick-start an effort to improve child health and wellness. As the Nola.com/Times-Picayune editorial board notes, the money will be used to implement the federal “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child” program.

 

“Decades of research shows healthier children are better students — more able to succeed in school and in life,” the United Way said in a press release about the donation. The donation will help pay for a plan to identify health issues that affect students and coordinate care for them.

When children are dealing with health problems, they are more likely to fall behind — and perhaps more likely to drop out of school. That limits their ability to get a decent-paying job and could keep them mired in poverty…The “whole child” model focuses on health education, nutrition, wellness, school climate, health services, counseling and social services, community involvement, family engagement and physical education, among other areas.

 

Number of the Day

28 – Percent of Louisiana’s children living in poverty (Nola.com/The Times Picayune)