BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Louisiana Department of Health will begin mailing notices on Thursday, May 10 to nearly 37,000 Medicaid patients to inform them that their eligibility could end on July 1.
According to data from Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, the Lake's trauma center treated more than 1,300 patients with life-threatening injuries or conditions in 2017. At the Lake's new North Baton Rouge Emergency Room, an average of 80 patients walk through the door every day. Each month, the Lake treats more than 17,000 patients through its LSU partnered health clinics around the city.
Thanks to the state's $700 million-dollar budget hole, all of those services and more are at risk.
"I think people are getting very anxious and very nervous and rightfully so," said OLOL's president and CEO Scott Wester.
Our Lady of the Lake is the state's health care partner for the capital region. The state contracts with the Lake to provide health care services for Medicaid and uninsured patients. There are similar contracts held with hospitals around the state.
However, if lawmakers can't come up with the funding to fulfill their public-private partnership contracts, the services would be terminated.
Officials said the move comes as a result of deep state budget cuts. Among those at risk for losing benefits are nursing home and disabled patients. Critics say the notices are just scare tactics, but Gov. John Bel Edwards says the letters are required by law.
"We told them back in February when we went into the session that this is what we were trying to avoid. It's not a tactic at all. It's sad, but the sad part is not that we're sending out the letters, the sad part is that the legislature didn't fix this in February," said Edwards.
Officials said the state's budget shortfall includes more than $537 million in general fund dollars.
"When the Department is forced to reduce the size of its budget by this magnitude, the only way we can reduce expenditures is to cut services, programs or eligibility not mandated by federal Medicaid rules," said Rebekah Gee, secretary of the Department of Health. "Because most of those who receive these letters live in some type of facility - a nursing home or a facility that provides for the needs of a person with a disability, the reality is they will lose more than their health care, they will lose what they know as their home."
The governor added the state's public medical schools and partner hospitals may also see closures if the budget isn't addressed.
It's a worst-case scenario Wester said lawmakers are closer to than ever before.
"This is in essence a health care shut down," said Wester. "When you have a heart attack, when you have a stroke, you get in to a motor vehicle accident and all that, what do you do when don't have those resources and available? In essence, I think what the legislators are playing with is a health care shutdown model."
According to a letter to LSU Health Sciences Center in which Wester outlined what would happen should the contract end, transition of services could be take place over a 6-month period or in as few as 2 days.
Immediate actions would include:
- Closure of North Baton Rouge ER
- Closure of LSU Health Baton Rouge Urgent Care Clinics on Airline Hwy and North Foster
- Closure of LSU Health Baton Rouge Clinics and MidCity pharmacy
- Closure of chemotherapy at the North Clinic and cancer patients redirected
- Closure Perkins Surgery Center for outpatient procedures; patients redirected
- Closure of the region’s only designated Trauma Center
- Clinical training for LSU School of Medicine programs would end at OLOL putting residency programs into immediate jeopardy
- LSU physician faculty would no longer have privileges at OLOO, effective immediately.
Wester also points out that without the current services provided by public-private partnerships, patients without insurance would turn to emergency rooms for care which is the most expensive point of care delivery for healthcare.
"This isn't just a monopoly board, people playing back and forth. This is real issues and real lives," said Wester.
Anyone with questions about their coverage can contact the Department of Health at 888-342-6207.