Legislator wants to file backup plan

A Carencro legislator on Monday proposed more community-based control of the state’s public hospitals.

State Rep. Stephen Ortego said the Jindal administration’s plan for private hospitals to lease and operate LSU hospitals relies on financing that will soon evaporate.

Ortego offered a plan under which the hospitals would move from LSU to control and oversight of state regional human services districts in the area where the hospital is located. He will file legislation for consideration in the legislative session that opens April 8, Ortego told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

Ortego said he has been discussing the idea with members of the Louisiana House and state Senate and will talk with administration officials this week.

The Democratic legislator said he sees nothing wrong with public-private partnerships, but there needs to be “real accountability, real oversight.” Local communities need to be empowered with that responsibility, Ortego said.

Louisiana has 10 regional health and human services districts that address community mental health and addictive disorder needs. The districts would expand their focus to include coordination of both mental and medical care in the region, he said.

The special districts would be given certain authority such as the ability to enter into contracts and seek community financial support for the facility similar to hospital service districts in many areas, Ortego said. He said the districts could be given authority to seek dedication of tobacco tax proceeds.

He said it’s the only way the state will be able to sustain the health care safety network in the future. “It’s either a fall back or replacement of a dance partner,” Ortego said.

Ortego compared the Jindal administration’s plan to a “Cajun two-step” where private partners pay to lease the LSU hospitals and the lease payments are used to bring in a two-to-one federal funding match. The money is then paid back to the provider under what is called an “upper payment limit,” or UPL.

The program reimburses hospitals to provide care for which they would otherwise have been ineligible. UPL is the difference between what the state Medicaid program reimburses and the higher paying Medicare rate.

“It’s very easy for government to ride the UPL wave over the next two years,” Ortego said. But UPL monies will be eliminated during the next couple of years.

“People still want a health care safety net,” Ortego said.

Ortego said the Jindal plan still requires approval by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “We have not seen the lease agreement work in any other state,” he said.

He said legislators want to be sure the “ public-private partnerships are going to work and how the money is being used,” Ortego said. He said legislators are being told little. “We are actually being asked to vote on faith.”

Ortego said health care and education are more important and neither is being taken seriously.