Thursday, May 12, 2016

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Health care programs face deep cuts; Payday loan ads banned; Pension boost and; Medical marijuana

Health care programs face deep cuts

Budget changes approved by the House Appropriations Committee – and scheduled for debate on the House floor this afternoon – would devastate hospitals that serve the poor and people with disabilities who depend on state waivers to receive community care. That’s the word from the Department of Health and Hospitals, which is pushing back against the changes. Kevin Litten of Times-Picayune has the breakdown:


DHH believes that all partner hospitals under contract to care for the poor and uninsured will walk away from their contracts. That would result in their patients flooding nearby hospital emergency rooms, health care experts have said, destabilizing those hospitals’ finances; There is no way that medical education could survive the cuts under the bill, DHH said. Louisiana trains more than 1,000 doctors annually, many of whose salaries are funded in part by the money that flows to the partner hospitals; Gee said that she’d need to cut 25 percent of the jobs in her department, which oversees licensing and standards. She said it could result in patient deaths or injury due to the lack of oversight on health care facilities in the state; The cut would result in the elimination of the following programs: Adult Day Health Waiver, 900 Recipients, Pediatric Day Health Care, 235 participants, Reduced Independent Living Services through New Opportunities Waiver, 1,567 recipients, Children’s Choice Waiver, 1,227 recipients, Supports Waiver, 1,739 recipients, Residential Options Waiver, 26 patients; DHH would cut the electronic verification program that helps the department determine whether patients are actually visiting doctors. That program assists the department in monitoring waste, fraud and abuse; Rural hospitals would suffer a $12 million cut.


The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp has reactions to the proposed cuts:


House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, presented the amendments on Monday and defended the cuts to DHH at the time as reprioritizing money raised through tax hikes in the recent special session. He told The Advocate on Wednesday that he believes funding is adequate for DHH. “They’re still receiving significantly more money than they did last year,” he said. He said DHH’s threats to eliminate programs and services — particularly the New Opportunities Waiver that benefits children with disabilities — are overblown.“This is another scare tactic by the administration,” Henry said. “At this point, it’s getting embarrassing for them.” But Gee said the department’s hands are tied because waivers and other “optional” programs funded with Medicaid dollars are among the only areas of the budget that can be cut. “It’s either arbitrary and capricious or it’s leprechaun budgeting and they think we are sitting on a hidden pile of gold,” Gee said of the House Appropriations plan for DHH. “These are lives that will be impacted and potentially some lost.”


Payday loan ads banned

Google has taken a step to protect consumers by banning payday loan advertisements from its site. Payday loans are short term loans due on your next payday and have interest rates that average 391 percent APR nationally, according to the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). As notes, the loans disproportiantely harm low income people and can result in devastating cycles of debt.


By taking action against technically legal but morally bankrupt payday loans, Google is taking a more aggressive approach toward consumer protections. Good…“When reviewing our policies, research has shown that these loans can result in unaffordable payment and high default rates for users so we will be updating our policies globally to reflect that,” wrote Google global product policy director David Graff, announcing the change…“I think this action is as unprecedented as it is significant,” wrote CRL executive vice president Keith Corbett. “By example, Google is demonstrating how profitable enterprises can also be ethical and supportive of financial fairness. … Payday loan companies won’t be banned from Google altogether; they’ll still show up in search results. If removing the ads makes even a small difference, though, it’s worth it. Anything that makes it more difficult for predators to connect with their prey counts as progress.


Pension boost

It’s been two years since retired state workers and teachers received a cost of living adjustment in their monthly pension checks. The wait is over. Mark Ballard of the Advocate reports that 125,000 retirees over 60 will receive a raise on the first $60,000 in benefits.


Retired state workers and retired public school teachers would receive a 1.5 percent increase; retired school workers would get 2 percent; and retired State Police troopers and staff would receive at least 2 percent. The average monthly increase would be about $30, but the exact amounts could vary widely depending the circumstances of individual retirees. It’s been two years since some of the state pensioners received a cost of living adjustment, called a COLA. That bump came with passage of a law aimed at tackling a $20 billion debt the four state retirement systems have incurred over the years of granting COLAs and of legislators not putting enough money into the systems to cover the promises made to state employees.  Act 399 set triggers for when cost of living allowances could be given. The check-offs include waiting every other year, ensuring enough money was in an account that collects excess earning on investments, and the systems hit a predetermined level of funding. Another criterion is whether there was inflation in the previous year. There wasn’t. But proponents argued that was because the price of energy fell so dramatically and threw calculation off. But the prices consumers paid for health care and groceries rose. And the funds where excess earnings are parked — and from which COLAs will be paid — are full and cannot be used for other state government expenses. The COLAs granted in the legislation will cost $385 million.


Medical marijuana

Adults and children suffering from cancer, seizures and other debilitating diseases are one step closer to having another treatment option. The House passed Senate Bill 271 which allows doctors to recommend marijuana for their patients. The bill now heads to the governor for his signature. Tyler Bridges of The Advocate has the story.


This bill will enable our doctor to have another tool to treat my baby girl,” state Rep. Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville, told a hushed chamber, referring to his 29-year-old daughter, Caroline, who suffers from Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy. Rep. Mike Huval said he wished his brother had had the opportunity to consume the marijuana while he was terminally ill with cancer. “The pain he endured hopefully would have been take care of by this miracle medication,” said Huval, R-Breaux Bridge. State Rep. Scott Simon encapsulated the fears of opponents when he said he feared that the bill would put Louisiana on a slippery slope to the legalization of marijuana. “This bill is nothing more than creep,” said Simon, R-Abita Springs. But Democratic New Orleans Rep. Helena Moreno dismissed that idea.“This is about helping people who are very ill,” she said … Under the bill, marijuana could be taken only as an oil, such as in a liquid, tablet or suppository, not smoked.Moreno said the active ingredient in marijuana — the THC — would be in its lowest therapeutic form. Under the bill, the number of diseases that can be treated with marijuana would increase from three to 10, and doctors would “recommend” rather than “prescribe” the medicine, to get around the federal prohibition of prescribing marijuana.


Number of the Day

650 percent – The typical lump-sum APR for an online payday loan. (Source: Pew Charitable Trusts via