Jindal issues cuts for next fiscal year

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has laid out plans to strip $46 million in state funds from next year’s budget, largely from higher education and health services, to finish balancing the spending plans as required by lawmakers.

The 2013-14 budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 approved by the Legislature requires $20 million in cuts across state agencies and additional cuts to health care programs, but leaves the reductions to the Jindal administration to implement.

The Governor’s Office and the Department of Health and Hospitals released two sets of planned cuts late Friday evening. Higher education leaders, health care providers and agency leaders were deciding Monday how to deal with the reductions.

Dentists who care for Medicaid patients, largely children, will see their payments cut. Parish human services districts that provide mental health care, addictive disorders treatment and disabled services will get less money. Adult protective services jobs will be reduced.

Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said she worked to protect critical services in determining how to remove $26 million in state funds from her budget, which multiplied to $52 million with the loss of federal Medicaid matching dollars.

“We are focused on managing our budget and resources as effectively as possible to support the needs of Louisiana residents across the state,” Kliebert said in a statement.

While some of the DHH reductions will trim vacant positions and rework administrative staff and contracting arrangements, other cuts will hit services.

Dentists say a $2.8 million cut to the rates they are paid for taking care of Medicaid patients — which amounts to 3 percent — will chase some dentists from the program. The reduction comes on top of recent cuts reaching 14 percent for the most frequently billed procedures, according to the Louisiana Dental Association.

“The 3 percent cut is big because the profit margin is so slim. As the rates are decreased, dentists will drop out,” said Dr. Edward “Don” Donaldson, a pediatric dentist in the New Orleans area.

DHH said the Louisiana reimbursement rates still remain higher than neighboring states for most dental services, even with the cut.

But the rate reductions come after Donaldson and others fought for years to boost reimbursement payments to attract more dentists to the program, specifically to treat children.

“It’s the loss in confidence in the program and what we’re trying to accomplish. Once you lose those dentists, they don’t come back on board readily,” he said. “I hate to see this dismantled.”

The health care reductions were required because lawmakers didn’t include enough money to pay for expected rises in the use of Medicaid services, Kliebert said.

Outside of health care, the steepest cut will fall on higher education, which will have $11 million less to spend next year than anticipated.

Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell’s office was working on how to spread the reduction among campuses, with a plan to be recommended Wednesday to the Board of Regents, which will make the final decision.

Jindal said the cut will be more than offset by new campus fee increases set to take effect with the coming school year. But the $18 million estimated to be raised annually by the fee hike is dedicated to building maintenance on campuses and can’t be used for operations.

The higher education reduction continues an erosion of state financing for Louisiana’s public colleges during Jindal’s time in office, much of it due to budget troubles. With tuition and fee increases, however, colleges will have slightly more money next year than this year.

äON THE INTERNET:

House Bill 1 can be found at www.legis.la.gov