Co-pay bill advanced by La. House committee

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, raises a question Thursday during the House Health and Welfare Committee's discussion of House Bill 375.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, raises a question Thursday during the House Health and Welfare Committee's discussion of House Bill 375.

Child therapy costs cited

A Louisiana House committee approved legislation Thursday that would require some parents of developmentally delayed children to pay for therapy and treatment from the state.

The House Committee on Health and Welfare advanced without objection House Bill 375. The measure heads to the full House for consideration.

HB375 would allow the state to create a cost-sharing mechanism to charge parents, based on a sliding scale of annual income, for services provided by the Early Steps program.

State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe and sponsor of HB375, said the amount parents would have to pay would be based on annual income and size of family.

For instance, a family making less than $55,584 would not have to pay anything, Hoffmann said. But he estimated that a family of four with an annual income of $106,002 would contribute about $40 per hour to the services.

About half the children currently enrolled in Early Step are covered by Medicaid, the state and federal insurance program for the poor, and would not have to pay anything, he said.

The actual co-pay is not part of the legislation but are estimates based on projections by the state Department of Health and Hospitals, Hoffmann said. Families would begin paying in the fiscal year that starts July 1, should the legislation be approved by both chambers and signed into law by the governor.

DHH estimated that about 2,000 families would be required to participate in cost-sharing.

The fee payments are anticipated to raise about $1.7 million for DHH in its first fiscal year and $2.1 million in its second, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

Hoffmann said the fee payments would help shrink state spending on the program. Early Steps was on the verge of being eliminated last year because of budget cuts, he said.

“This protects this very important program,” Hoffmann said. “We need this program to be self-sustaining.”

Early Steps, which has cost Louisiana taxpayers about $7.4 million annually, provides medical, nutritional and other services and therapies as well as assistive technology to infants and toddlers who are developmentally delayed. DHH administers the program. It provides help for about 4,200 children each month.

Kathy Kliebert, the interim secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals, said parents asked to make a co-pay could also file for coverage with their personal insurance policies.

The program has been with the state Department of Health and Hospitals since 2003. HB375 also cleans up the statute and lines of authority for Early Steps.

Laura Brackin, assistant secretary for DHH’s Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities, said 20 other states have some charge for families in their similar programs.