Bill seeks funding for hospitals

A state House panel advanced a proposed constitutional amendment Monday aimed at creating more stable funding for Louisiana hospitals that care for the poor and uninsured.

Bill sponsor House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said the state’s hospitals have been hit hard by Medicaid budget cuts since 2009, “creating a lot of uncertainty” in the health care arena.

House Bill 532 co-sponsor Speaker Protem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, put the budget reductions’ impact on community hospitals at $260 million.

“Our hospitals are only receiving about 60 percent reimbursement for the services provided,” he said.

The proposed constitutional amendment would create the Hospital Stabilization Fund.

Under the proposal, hospitals would pay a “provider assessment” with the money pooled and used as matching funds to attract federal Medicaid dollars.

The money received would be spread out among hospitals based on a formula approved by the Legislature that would establish the assessment and rates to be paid to those hospitals. It could be adjusted annually.

Thirty-nine states have similar programs, Kleckley said.

“We feel this is a stable funding source,” Kleckley said. “We are trying to protect what we have today and provide an incentive to take on Medicaid patients.”

Louisiana Hospital Association Vice President Sean Prados said the “assessment” would be an investment by the hospital community.

House Appropriations Committee member Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, wanted to know the source of revenue the hospitals would use in paying their assessment.

“Out of its general operations,” said Paul Salles, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Hospital Council of New Orleans.

Geymann recalled passage of a “bed tax” pre-Hurricane Katrina that was rescinded before it could be implemented.

“You are not going to increase any fees to generate that new assessment?” Geymann asked.

“No, sir,” Salles said.

The House Appropriations Committee, without objection, sent House Bill 532 to the House floor for further debate. A two-thirds vote is required for passage in each chamber then approval by voters.