Louisiana Secretary of Health Rebekah Gee, center, leans back to confer with Dept. of Health Undersecretary Jeff Reynolds, right, as Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, left, speaks while presenting Gov. John Bel Edwards' Fiscal Year 2017-2018 Executive Budget proposal to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 at the State Capitol.


The state Legislature didn't raise revenue during the most recent session, prompting the state Department of Health to get about 14 percent less state funding than officials had requested.

But LDH Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee said on Monday that she doesn't anticipate major shifts in the state's health offerings and no programs will be shuttered.

"The Legislature gave us a budget we can live with," Gee said during the Press Club of Baton Rouge's weekly luncheon.

Lawmakers in a special session last month agreed to a $28 billion state budget that went into effect July 1. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, had urged lawmakers to agree to increase the state's revenue by about $440 million to fund the state's priorities, including the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students and modest employee pay raises to curb attrition. The final budget includes both of those and cut LDH spending by $31.7 M in state funding.

Gee had previously said that she worried reductions could threaten programs for youth behavioral programs and other mental health offerings.

Gee's appearance marked a year since the state's Medicaid expansion took effect. More than 425,000 now have health care coverage through the expanded program. The future of the program remains uncertain as Congress continues to debate the merits of the federal Affordable Care Act that allowed states to expand Medicaid and the possible repealing and replacing options. A U.S. Senate proposal has so far not been able to pass. 

Gee said that expansion, which is coming with increased federal dollars for the state, has helped prop up the budget. "That was able to be a lifesaver," she said.

Gee has recently drawn attention to the state's rationing of treatment for hepatitis C and ideas for bringing down drug costs. Gee estimated that providing treatment for all 35,000 of the uninsured and Medicaid-covered Louisiana residents with hepatitis C would cost at least $760 million.

"Just letting people continue to suffer and die for lack of treatment is not an acceptable status quo," Gee said. "Surely there is a way for drug companies to still make money, but also us not have individuals suffer and die."

She has suggested that the federal government could directly purchase drugs without regard to their patent status or seek out a subscription option. She said she hasn't discussed the ideas directly with the Trump administration.

"We do need a rational and real discussion about pharmaceutical pricing," she said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.