DHH head says healthcare waivers, restaurant inspections on chopping block under House budget plan

DHH says waivers, inspections on budget chopping block

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The head of the Department of Health and Hospitals told lawmakers Sunday that the budget plan passed by the House could leave many programs at risk.

DHH Sec. Rebekah Gee said overall, the DHH is $150 million short of the funding needed to provide all services. As a result, she told the Senate Finance Committee, four of the state's six healthcare waiver programs could be eliminated under the budget. Those waivers help provide services to the disabled and the elderly.

She also told lawmakers that budget-induced cuts could lead to a 50 percent cut back in restaurant health inspections.

Still, some members of the committee asked if there was room for further cuts. Gee downplayed that as a possibility while calling for a second special session to raise more revenue.

"There has to be efficiencies, a one percent savings in a $12 billion budget is a significant amount of money," said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell.

"If I could find one percent, believe I would have come up with it by now and we would have it in our budget to sustain some of these waivers because believe me this keeps me up at night that our families are worrying about getting services for their kids," Gee said.

The heads of both LSU medical schools also indicated that the House budget plan could force them to shut down or cut back on certain programs. In New Orleans, that could mean shuttering the undergraduate nursing program as well as the dental hygienist program.

"The dean of the school of medicine tells me almost daily he's getting calls from students asking, is this where I really need to train? Should I stay here or should I go someplace else?" said Dr. Larry Hollier, the chancellor of the LSU New Orleans Health Sciences Center.

"More than likely, I'm going to cut something in all programs. I'm trying not to lose accreditation in programs. I'm trying to not discourage medical students from staying in our Health Science Center," said G. E. Ghali, the interim chancellor of the LSU Shreveport Health Sciences Center.

The House budget was amended to include funding for the state's partnership hospitals at a level requested by the DHH and the governor. That funding level, however, was lower than the amount desired by the hospitals themselves.

The DHH said they will not need all the money requested because of savings from Medicaid expansion. Hospital leaders disputed the savings estimations.

The Senate will continue to hear testimony on the budget Monday morning.

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