Changes to State Capitol traffic plan put on hold

Advocate Photo by MARSHA SHULER -- Visitors to the State Capitol this holiday season are in a construction zone with chain-link fences, ripped up pavement and materials stacked all around. It's part of a $4.37 million project.

Major traffic pattern changes planned as part of a State Capitol security upgrade are being delayed, the state’s construction manager said. The Louisiana Legislature begins its 2015 session in April, and there is a concern that the road work would not be completed in time, State Office of Facility Planning and Control Director Mark Moses said. Rather … Continue reading →

Mobile pet shelter coming

Construction is expected to begin in December on a mobile pet shelter which will be ready for use by the 2015 hurricane season, Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain said Monday. “The benefit of a mobile pet shelter is immediate onsite sheltering and care of pets affected by a disaster, the ease of safe transport of … Continue reading →

LOUISIANA GOVERNMENT

Vacant jobs eliminated to help balance the state budget

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols

The Jindal administration eliminated 167 vacant positions and found some extra dollars to balance the budget halfway through the fiscal year. “None of the positions that were taken were filled,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief budgetary adviser, said Friday. “The bottom line is we protected higher ed. We protected health care. There were … Continue reading →

Diabetes costly for Louisiana

Associated Press file photoA diabetic tests his blood-sugar level in 2009.

Direct and indirect costs of diabetes in Louisiana hit $5.4 billion annually, which an economic impact study released Thursday by the American Diabetes Association called alarming. The new statistical data puts the national price tag at $322 billion associated with medical costs and lost productivity — 48 percent higher than just five years prior. … Continue reading →

Tax Amnesty gathers $142 million

Louisiana’s tax amnesty program has brought in $142 million for the sagging state budget this year — several million more than expected. The state budget relied on at least $100 million coming in through the monthlong effort, which gave thousands of tax scofflaws a chance to pay the taxes they owed with discounted interest and without penalties. … Continue reading →

LSU expands urgent care into MidCity

LSU Health Baton Rouge will open its second urgent care clinic Dec. 15 at MidCity Clinic, officials announced Thursday. The center, 1401 N. Foster Drive, will be open seven days a week. The hours will be 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday. Weekend hours will be 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Patients will not need … Continue reading →

State bond refinancing yields savings

The refinancing of $228.54 million in state general obligation bonds saved taxpayers $12 million, state Treasurer John Kennedy said Tuesday. “We refinanced to generate savings on money that was borrowed to fund construction projects across Louisiana,” Kennedy said in a prepared statement shortly after completion of the refinancing. “Just like homeowners refinance their mortgages, we … Continue reading →

Judges’ pay panel keeps status quo

The state Judicial Compensation Commission decided Tuesday that it won’t propose new pay raises for Louisiana judges for at least the next two years. Louisiana judges already are in line for annual 2.1 percent pay increases each July 1 through 2017 under a commission-proposed, five-year plan adopted by the Legislature. “We are in year two of … Continue reading →

Pension debt reduction plan a no-go

A proposal to borrow money to help reduce state pension system debts got shot down quickly Monday. The idea was to borrow money that would be used to pay one lump sum and buy out the pensions of vested retirees who have not yet begun to draw their benefits. Waiting before drawing on a pension allows … Continue reading →

Bobby Jindal administration: Louisiana must reduce spending by $171M, will make cuts

Kristy Nichols

The Jindal administration will have to reduce spending for the next seven months by $171 million after the state officially on Friday recognized that revenues would not be as high as anticipated. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said she already is working with agencies to come up with ways to reduce spending enough to balance the budget. … Continue reading →

Smith named LSU public health dean

Dean Smith is leaving an academic position in Michigan to become dean of the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans’ School of Public Health. Smith, a professor and official at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, will start the job here June 1, LSU Health Chancellor Larry Hollier announced. Smith will work through … Continue reading →

PAR recommends Group Benefits financial control

The state needs an independent third party review when making financial decisions related to operations of the Office of Group Benefits health insurance program, the Public Affairs Research Council recommended in a report issued Monday. “The decisions, as they are now made, are done internal, in one agency with a lot of preoccupation about the immediate … Continue reading →

Bobby Jindal administration revamps Group Benefits changes

Advocate Photo by MARSHA SHULER -- State Reps. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, left, and James Armes, D-Leesville, listen Friday as Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols outline Group Benefits insurance program changes that include a nearly 11 percent premium increase July 1. Pope and Armes said they were concerned about the added cost on local school board that pay the hefty employer share. At back are Senate Finance Committee chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, left, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.

Under legislative pressure, the Jindal administration Friday revamped its plan to stabilize the finances of the state health insurance program that covers a quarter million government workers and their families. The new plan outlined to the Louisiana Legislature’s money committees reduces out-of-pocket expenses in exchange for higher premiums. But the premiums could go up nearly 11 percent … Continue reading →

State bond refinancing on track after concessions

State Treasurer John Kennedy

A political logjam holding up refinancing of some state borrowing has broken — clearing the way for action next week. But the acrimony continues. State Treasurer John Kennedy announced late Thursday that the Jindal administration agreed to disclose in the “official offering statement” that the state ended last fiscal year with a $140.6 million deficit and … Continue reading →

Louisiana gets “F” in premature births

Louisiana, once again, got a grade of F, this time for having too many premature births, according to an annual national survey by the March of Dimes, which was released Thursday. While this year’s grade showed a slight improvement over last year’s, the state is far shy of the goal of lowering the U.S. preterm birth … Continue reading →

Louisiana voters lock up more of the budget from cuts

Balancing Louisiana’s budget could be trickier for state lawmakers and the governor. Voters agreed in this week’s election to two constitutional amendments passed by the Legislature that will make it more difficult to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid funding from hospitals and nursing homes. A minimum payment level is now set for Medicaid … Continue reading →

Sen. David Vitter weighs in on possible Ebola victim

A crew member taken off a ship at the Port of New Orleans after a stop in Liberia did not have the Ebola virus, state officials said Tuesday. Proper procedures were followed in the handling of the incident, which occurred last weekend, Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness director Kevin Davis said. … Continue reading →

Louisiana doing direct Ebola monitoring

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Jimmy Guidry, State Health Officer Louisiana, talks about the meeting of The Governor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, to do a

New federal guidelines for safeguarding against the Ebola virus are coming closer to what Louisiana has put into practice, the state’s medical director said Monday. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just recommended that health departments do in-person monitoring of people returning from Ebola-stricken West African countries, Dr. Jimmy Guidry said. “Louisiana has been … Continue reading →

Group Benefits change announced

Faced with the threat of a lawsuit, the Jindal administration decided Monday to refund an estimated $4.48 million to some state health insurance program enrollees. The refunds involve out-of-pocket expenses paid as a result of changes the state Office of Group Benefits implemented Aug. 1 without going through the approval process spelled out in state law. Group Benefits published … Continue reading →

Ebola fears hit another N.O. health convention

A major U.S. public health organization has become the second group impacted by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Ebola response policy as it prepares to bring 14,000 people to New Orleans. State health officials advised the American Public Health Association that registrants recently returned from Ebola-stricken countries and those who have treated patients stateside should stay home. … Continue reading →

Medicaid spending over budget

The pace of Louisiana Medicaid program spending is running $170.7 million more than what’s budgeted, state health officials said Friday. The projection is based on a financial report as of October, and it includes both state and federal funds. Of the total, $61.1 million is the state share. State Department of Health and Hospitals Undersecretary … Continue reading →

Complaints target I-10 Miss. River bridge

Complaints about daily backups on the Interstate 10 Mississippi River Bridge surfaced repeatedly Thursday during the final stop of state hearings on local road and highway needs. West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot said he often hears gripes about bridge traffic. “They ask me, ‘When are you going to fix the bridge?’ ” … Continue reading →

Court settlement reached in Medicaid case

The state health agency has entered into a settlement in a federal lawsuit over the inadequacy of notices denying Medicaid recipients access to services. U.S. District Judge Jim Brady, of Baton Rouge, approved the settlement, in which the state agrees to do a better job of providing specific information about the reasons for the service denials. He … Continue reading →

At-risk youth program draws federal complaint

Two civil rights groups called for a federal investigation into a Jindal administration program that they allege is failing to deliver on promised services to keep at-risk youth with mental health problems out of detention centers and hospitals. In response, the state health chief acknowledged Wednesday that there are “challenges” in getting providers to meet the … Continue reading →

U.S. Senate debate: Recap of candidates, columnist Stephanie Grace's comments

Join Advocate writers and editors for live updates and analysis from tonight's debate. … Continue reading →

Medicaid contract awards announced

The state health agency late Friday named the five companies to provide health insurance for some two-thirds of the state’s 1.4 million Medicaid recipients. The lucrative contracts will go to Aetna Better Health of Louisiana, Amerigroup Louisiana Inc., AmeriHealth Caritas Louisiana Inc., Louisiana Healthcare Connections and UnitedHealthcare Community Plan. Four of the five companies participated in the … Continue reading →

THE EBOLA CRISIS

Two more New Orleans-area residents being monitored for Ebola

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Tom Frieden provides an update on the latest developments involving the deadly Ebola virus and its infection of a Texas health care professional as he addresses the media during a briefing at CDC headquarters Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, in Atlanta. Frieden said the CDC is working to improve protections for hospital workers after a nurse caring for an Ebola patient in Dallas became the first person to become infected with the disease inside the U.S. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal Constitution, David Tulis) MARIETTA OUT, GWINNETT OUT

The number of people being monitored for Ebola symptoms in Louisiana jumped to four on Friday, with the addition of two more residents from the New Orleans area, the state health agency said. One man and one woman — both considered “low risk” — have been added to the two men already being watched, said Olivia Watkins, … Continue reading →