BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - More possible cuts to health care were discussed Wednesday at the Capitol in the House Appropriations Committee as money may or may not be available. Those cuts could hurt other important state services.
For more than two hours, lawmakers questioned staff with the Department of Health and Hospitals about their finances for next year.
The Jindal administration has proposed a $9.49 billion dollar budget for the department. 89% of that, roughly 8.2 billion dollars, is for the state's Medicaid program which covers the poor and uninsured in the state. A program more people are enrolling in, according to DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert.
While the presentation was not very specific, the department says among the cuts they have eliminated more than 150 vacant positions and reduced some contracts.
"We proposed reducing contracts in the past, trying to mitigate some of the shortfall and the sky would fall. Why are we able to do that now?" asked Representative Brett Geymann.
Kliebert also said the department has made cuts in travel and operating expenses.
"Certainly the reductions we are making are serious. None of these are easy reductions, but we feel strongly we'll be able to protect critical services to Louisiana men, women and children," Kliebert said.
Some legislators said DHH is counting on money from tax changes that have not been approved by the legislature yet and may not be. That adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars.
"I think we're better suited for us to participate without the supplementary budget," said Representative James Fannin, the committee chair.
Without that money, DHH says it could be looking at substantial cuts in public health operations run under new agreements with its private partners. That could hurt other critical state services.
"We actually have $285 million less than we did ten years ago, but DHH's budget went up by $1.6 billion," said House Fiscal Division deputy director Chris Keaton. "So we had to get that from somewhere. Got a lot of that from higher education, over $790 million dollars that we took from higher education's general fund."
The higher ed budget is also on the chopping block.
"In other words, we took quote 'higher education money', moved it to DHH and then increased fees to replace the money back in higher ed. Is that sort of the circle?" asked Rep. Geymann.
Dressed in yellow t-shirts, parents of special needs children listened to what areas could be cut. They say they'll be back in April, when the committee takes public comment on the issue.