The House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations has traditionally been a tough place for bills that seek to help workers. It’s where minimum wage bills usually go to die, and on Wednesday the committee turned away legislation by Rep. Helena Moreno that would have barred private employers from retaliating against workers who discuss their wages with co-workers. The news was better on the Senate side, where Sen. J.P. Morrell won committee passage of legislation that requires men and women in the private sector to be paid the same for doing equal work. The Advocate’s Rebekah Allen:
Senate Bill 2 includes the changes that Senate Republicans wanted last year, said Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans and sponsor of the measure. Those changes capped back pay and reduced employers’ exposure to lawsuits by allowing them to reconcile differences in pay disparities before going to court. But, the legislation still doesn’t have the approval of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. Renee Amar, a LABI vice president, said SB2 would remove the ability for employees and employers to negotiate wages and it puts businesses in the position of defending decisions that are often dictated by the market. Morrell remains optimistic though winced as he noted that if the Senate considers SB2 favorably again, it goes to House Labor. “I’m more than willing to work to make a compromise on this issue,” Morrell said.
Over at Nola.com/The Times-Picayune, Jennifer Larino has a helpful rundown of the various equal pay bills and what they do.
DCFS struggles to fulfill its mission
No state agency has been more affected by budget cuts in recent years than the state Department of Children and Family Services. The agency charged with helping Louisiana’s most vulnerable citizens – foster kids, children who suffer from abuse and neglect and families in need of financial assistance – has seen its staffing and budget slashed repeatedly. LBP’s Jeanie Donovan looks at the agency’s budget, including the effect of House budget committee amendments, in a new blog.
Altogether DCFS has 3,447 full-time employees, many of whom are caseworkers handling child protective services cases or determining eligibility for the state’s safety net programs. Due to budget cuts and pay freezes, however, the caseloads within the child welfare division have risen to dangerous levels. A review by the Legislative Auditor in 2016 found that the agency continually struggles to manage the federal safety net programs it oversees. Several of the violations put the state at risk of federal penalties. Due to the $440 million budget gap in the upcoming fiscal year, the budget does not include funding to hire 187 new that the agency needs to fulfill its mission. The money for the caseworkers is included on a list of funding priorities in case state tax collections tick up or if the Legislature raises new recurring revenue.
Blind voting on AHCA 2.0
The U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote this afternoon on a healthcare bill that strips coverage from 24 million Americans, guts the federal Medicaid program and raises insurance premiums for people with pre-existing conditions. It also provides a massive tax cut to some of America’s wealthiest families. In a break with tradition, the House is rushing the vote without waiting for a report from the Congressional Budget Office on how much it will cost. Sarah Cliff of Vox comments:
A legislator deciding whether or not to support the American Health Care Act would likely wonder what the bill actually does. The whole point of CBO scoring is to figure this out before you decide whether a piece of legislation is good or bad. This also gives legislators some space to make changes to parts of a bill that don’t seem to work. CBO scores are meant to be a tool for legislators, a way to game out the consequences — both politically and policy-wise — of moving laws forward. It’s notable that we haven’t heard one member of Congress say, “I like the idea of this bill, but I’ll wait until we see the CBO score to make up my mind.” But so far, the CBO score has been treated as unnecessary — certainly nice to have, but not a prerequisite for holding a floor vote.
ACA reduced bankruptcy filings
People with pre-existing conditions and very expensive prescription drug costs will pay to secure their health by any means, including racking up major medical debt. The Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections reduced out-of-pocket costs for life-saving treatment, and as a result fewer people are declaring bankruptcy. Daniel Austin’s research at Northeastern University School of Law showed that medical debt is the single largest factor in personal bankruptcy. Bankruptcy filings have dropped 50 percent since 2010 because fewer people have trouble paying their medical bills. Consumer Reports’ Allen St. John shares how he did it.
First, Austin analyzed the paperwork of individual case files, which suggested that medical bills were a factor in 18 percent of filings. But when he directly asked the same filers, in a survey, the number was even higher, with 25 percent citing medical bills as a factor in their decision to file bankruptcy. In addition to the nationwide group, Austin isolated a group of 100 bankruptcy filers from Massachusetts. Why Massachusetts? Because its citizens, starting in 2006, had been covered by a comprehensive state healthcare program similar to the ACA known as Romneycare, after the state’s former governor, Mitt Romney. The differences between the two groups were striking. “Only about 9 percent of Massachusetts debtors felt their bankruptcy filing was a result of medical bills,” Austin explains. “This compares to 25 percent for debtors from [other] jurisdictions.” Austin’s research found that comprehensive medical coverage in Massachusetts had all but eliminated medical bills as a cause for bankruptcy.
Hep C drugs too costly for LA
The cost of treating Medicaid patients and uninsured Louisianans with Hepatitis C – labeled as a “pervasive public health threat” by the National Association of Medical Directors – could devastate the state’s Medicaid budget. State health secretary Dr. Rebecca Gee estimated it would cost $764 million per year, money the state doesn’t have. Gee is asking federal health officials to use a century-old federal patent law that could allow the state to buy generic versions of the drug at a much cheaper cost. Sarah Jane Tribble has details in Kaiser Health News.
Secretary Gee wrote to one of the nation’s leading public health experts last month to explore tapping a 1910 patent law that gives federal regulators the power to appropriate inventions and use a product in the interest of the public good. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the Defense Department used the law to buy dozens of medicines at lower costs. Joshua M. Sharfstein, an associate dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, took Gee’s query to other top academic and legal health specialists. Their meeting ended with the group concluding that Louisiana should pursue action under U.S. Code Section 1498. “This is the path that would be the most viable to be able to get what you need for people in Louisiana,” said Sharfstein, a former deputy commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration
Number of the Day
0.48 percent – Average annual increase in state spending, from 2007-08 to 2017-18, when all means of finance are counted. (Source: Louisiana House Fiscal Division).