BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - With some 37,000 Medicaid recipients' futures on the line, both sides of the ongoing feud over the state's finances are digging in their heels as the question of who is responsible for the mess surfaces.
"This is the first time ever that these eligibility programs have been placed on the chopping block," said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.
"His fix is to scare the elderly of this state," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie. "That is an embarrassment."
A letter, set to go out Thursday, May 9 from the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), warns of deep cuts to the agency looming once temporary taxes expire at the end of June. They are required by law to send out the notices and Dardenne says their hands are tied. If lawmakers do not solve the state's budget mess, the agency could shoulder roughly $1.8 billion dollars in cuts. Dardenne says the reality is some elderly residents could be evicted from nursing homes.
"We had an opportunity to do that last year in the regular session. The governor created another opportunity for the legislature to act in the special session earlier this year and despite those two opportunities, no revenue measure ever left the House of Representatives," Dardenne added.
"It's an unnecessary political scare tactic, done to intimidate and frighten the most vulnerable people," argued Lance Harris, chairman of the House Republican delegation.
House Republicans though are not taking the criticism lightly and instead going on the attack, calling out Governor John Bel Edwards and his administration, accusing them of creating unnecessary panic to get their way.
"We all remembered when he went on national television and said that we were going to cancel LSU football if we don't raise enough taxes," said Rep. Henry. "This is falling in the same exact line as he's done in the past."
Rep. Henry, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, says the problem is not in the cuts, but in how the agency chooses to prioritize what they are given. "I think LDH absolutely has the resources right now to fund the programs if they chose to make it a priority today, they can announce that they're going to fund these programs," Rep. Henry added.
Others say the move is premature, saying the Senate still has to weigh in on the budget. "The Senate has not taken up HB 1," said Harris. They may fully fund the Department of Health by the end of this week."
"This is premature at best and reckless at worst," said Rep. Henry.
LDH leaders though, say the last thing they want is to scare anyone, but rather to make them aware of the grim reality.
"This is not the heart of this administration to do this," said LDH secretary, Rebekah Gee. "This is not where we want to be. I mean, we've told the stories and it's just inaction, so unfortunately, we have to act and it's not easy."
The governor tweeted Wednesday saying he will work with any lawmaker willing to come to a compromise and avoid the cuts. He challenged them, saying he would attend a news conference with any of them as early as Thursday to address the issue.