To address the impending hole in the state budget, legislators can either raise additional revenue or make severe cuts. We need the Legislature to raise revenue to protect the health and well-being of Louisiana families.
Raising revenue by reforming Louisiana’s tax code is the desired solution from the perspective of many health and education professionals. The discretionary funds are essentially the only money in the state’s $27 billion budget allowed to be cut. The rest is either federal funding, self-generated funding like tuition, or state funding protected from cuts by the constitution. Health and education make up the vast majority of discretionary state general funds, so the cuts will be devastating.
Health care providers, particularly those working in public-private partnership hospitals like University Medical Center, are very alarmed. If the Legislature does not come up with a plan to raise revenue, according to the governor there will be approximately $656 million cut from health care. This includes near elimination of behavioral health services including substance abuse and mental health services for the traditional Medicaid population ($43.7 million); reductions in supplemental payments to public-private partnership hospitals that provide care to a disproportionate number of uninsured patients ($189 million); and elimination of long-term care for disabled or elderly persons who earn just above Medicaid eligibility limit ($231 million).
As a provider working at UMC, I am deeply concerned about what this means for patients and our community. Cuts to health care, especially to a public-private hospital like ours impact our ability to care for patients as services and programs are cut. Wait times increase and patients have to stay in the hospital longer because they’re not able to get placed in a timely manner. This impacts everyone who receives services at the hospital, including the privately insured. We cannot afford to decrease the already limited and badly needed mental and substance abuse services, particularly in the middle of an opioid crisis. People who are sick need to be treated, and I do not want to see them needlessly suffer as a result of state funding cuts.
Alternatively, I have seen the incredible benefits that result when the state decides to invest in the health of its citizens. My colleagues and I have seen the tremendous impact that Medicaid expansion has had on our patients, as they access care and manage chronic disease. With some of the highest rates of chronic disease in the country, and some of the lowest health literacy rates, we are already fighting an uphill battle every day and cannot afford additional cuts. If we are to improve health outcomes in our community, the state legislature must make the long-term investment and raise revenue so that they can fully fund health care and higher education.
Tulane University Medical Center