Harvey fire official gets $10,000 state ethics fine

A Harvey Volunteer Fire Company No. 2 official has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine for violating state ethics laws. The fine came as part of a settlement of Louisiana Board of Ethics conflict-of-interest charges against Tim Thiebaud. The charges related to business the fire company did with Thiebaud and his wife Donna’s business, Thiebaud’s … Continue reading →

Road savings idea strikes out with legislators

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- Deputy Commissioner of Administration Ruth Johnson told legislators Friday that only 5 percent of state roads would apply for overlay with a controversial, thinner layer of asphalt.

For legislators, thinner isn’t necessarily better. Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget raised concerns Friday about using thinner asphalt on state roads as a cost-cutting measure. Texas saves millions of dollars annually by using a 1-inch overlay of asphalt. State Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, warned the Jindal administration against following Texas’ … Continue reading →

Medicaid privatization yields savings

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, listens Friday as state health officials provide an update on Bayou Health - a private health insurance program  that covers two-thirds of the state's 1.4 million Medicaid population.

The Jindal administration’s private insurance-based program covering about 900,000 Medicaid recipients is working to curb escalating health care costs, Louisiana’s health chief said Friday. A new report indicates Bayou Health plans registered less cost than would have been incurred in the traditional state-run Medicaid program, state Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said. She said … Continue reading →

Group Benefits gets scrutiny

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- Legislative Fiscal Office senior analyst Travis McIlwain, left, talks about the finances of the state Office of Group Benefits during a Friday meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. At McIlwain's left is Deputy Commissioner of Administration Ruth Johnson.

The Legislature’s top money panel signaled Friday it would keep close watch on efforts to stabilize the finances of the state insurance program for about 230,000 employees, their dependents and retirees. Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin said he wants monthly reports on the progress of efforts to stop the continued erosion of … Continue reading →

Bond Commission approves college upgrades

Advocate staff photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, left, listens while State Treasurer John N. Kennedy addresses the Bond Commission on Thursday.

The State Bond Commission gave permission Thursday to make the loans necessary for a $175 million expansion at 18 community college campuses around the state. The money would build new campuses in the New Orleans area to train students for river-related shipping business and for work as chefs. In Lafayette, a building would be constructed for … Continue reading →

Bond commission holds off on building charter schools

The idea of shifting state money traditionally used to pay for public school education into a fund that would pay for construction at charter schools chilled some members of the State Bond Commission. The panel of high-ranking state officials that oversees borrowing by government agencies asked the not-for-profit corporation running the charter school to delay its request … Continue reading →

VA medical claims backlogged

A federal move to rely more heavily on the private sector for veterans’ health care ran into problems because the hospitals and other providers in Louisiana aren’t getting paid quickly. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is more than $35 million behind in paying private Louisiana hospitals, specialty care physicians and others, according to the … Continue reading →

Jindal administration announces big changes for Medicaid program

The Jindal administration is moving toward a program in which the state pays premiums for a private health insurance program for two-thirds of the state’s 1.4 million Medicaid recipients. State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert announced the change Thursday. Kliebert said the move will provide for more budget predictability and increased savings while … Continue reading →

VA clinics in Acadiana are nearing congressional approval

The U.S. Capitol building is seen through the columns on the steps of the Supreme Court, Monday, May 5, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Long awaited veterans’ clinics in Lafayette and Lake Charles could receive federal authorization within the next couple weeks, the head of the state Department of Veterans Affairs said Wednesday. Secretary David LaCerte, who is visiting Washington during a two-day trip, said he received assurances from members of the veterans affairs panels in the U.S. House and Senate … Continue reading →

Program for at-risk children coming soon

Louisiana Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert

More than two years after its launch, a state program designed to provide better, more coordinated services for Louisiana’s at-risk children and youth is still not active statewide. The idea behind the Jindal administration initiative is to provide community care for children and youth with mental health and substance abuse problems so they can stay out of … Continue reading →

Feds: La. must refund $7 million

Louisiana erroneously claimed more than $7 million in bonus payments related to its children’s health insurance program that need to be repaid, a federal inspector general’s report concludes. The state Medicaid program “overstated” program enrolment, including ineligible individuals, in requests to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, called CMS, according to the report. … Continue reading →

Whistleblower said claims agreement ‘close’ to fraud

An anonymous whistleblower warned federal officials about problems “dangerously close” to fraud in connection with the state award of a lucrative, now-scrapped state Medicaid claims processing contract, according to recently released documents that the Jindal administration used in making its decision to cancel the largest contract the state lets. The email shows that federal … Continue reading →

Senate leader suggests highway funding fixes

Senator Robert Adley

The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee said Wednesday that the state should consider a wide range of short-term steps to ease Louisiana’s road funding woes. One issue that needs review is using $60 million per year of state gasoline tax revenue to help fund State Police, state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said. Adley repeatedly noted … Continue reading →

Bayou Health faces changes, and queries from legislators

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Aerial of the new State Capitol building and grounds.

The state’s Medicaid privatization initiative is approaching its third birthday and the Jindal administration claims it’s resulting in taxpayer savings. But the administration has been unable to provide the numbers that would compare the costs of traditional government-provided Medicaid versus the costs under the private healthcare model. It’s an elusive number because of the complexity of … Continue reading →

State pension boards approve change

Louisiana’s two largest statewide retirement systems took a step that could reduce their long-term debts and ultimately lower the costs paid for state government retirements. The Louisiana State Employees Retirement System and the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana boards voted to reduce their projected annual investment returns from 8 percent to 7.75 percent. … Continue reading →

BESE’s Lee faces ethics charges

Walter Lee, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, is now facing state ethics charges. The state Board of Ethics alleged in documents made public Tuesday that Lee violated three state conflict of interest laws. The charges involve incidents of Lee’s alleged use of his position as DeSoto Parish schools superintendent for personal … Continue reading →

Audit projects Risk Management to save $22 million

Privatization of the state’s self-insurance program is on pace to meet $22 million in projected net savings over five years, according to a legislative auditor’s report released Monday. Three years into F.A. Richard & Associates’ handling of the business, the net savings total hit $15.9 million, just over 70 percent of the Office of Risk Management … Continue reading →

State files new appeal with CMS

The Jindal administration on Friday sought reconsideration of the federal health agency’s initial rejection of LSU hospital privatization financing plans. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services disapproved the plans because of advance lease payments included in hospital takeover agreements. CMS deemed the private operator payments “provider-related donations,” which are not allowed under federal law. … Continue reading →

Former DHH official faces ethics charge

The Louisiana Board of Ethics has filed charges against a former state health agency accountant arrested for alleged theft of $1 million to allegedly feed her gambling addiction. The charges against Deborah Crowder Loper were made public on the board’s website Friday. No public action was taken in advance of the charges being filed. Loper faces … Continue reading →

Veterans push legislators to fix health care system

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- Richard O'Brien asked legislators Friday to help fix the veterans' health care system/

Richard O’Brien, of Baton Rouge, had a request for legislators Friday on the breakdown of the federal health care system for military veterans: Fix it. O’Brien, an official with the Military Purple Heart of Louisiana, is diabetic and suffers from blood pressure problems. Long waits for care and a mix-up in the VA pharmacy recently left him … Continue reading →

Governor signs student data privacy bill

John Schroder

In an attempt to outwit identify thieves and to soothe some parents’ concerns, public school students in Louisiana soon will get unique identification numbers to replace the Social Security numbers that currently go on their academic files. Gov. Bobby Jindal announced signing House Bill 1076 Tuesday. The bill was drawn into the debate over … Continue reading →

Jindal signs bills to ban AG contracts

During recent legislative hearings, state Rep. Stuart J. Bishop testified that he sponsored a bill to restrict how the state attorney general hired private lawyers because of a concern for transparency. For questions on the particulars, he referred to two lobbyists for a group with a grass-roots-sounding name that actually was funded by a pharmaceutical industry … Continue reading →

Vacant hospitals face uncertain future

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- Charity Hospital is still vacant nearly 9 years after the federal levee failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, La. Friday, June 13, 2014.

The iconic symbol of Louisiana’s commitment to health care for the poorest of its residents sits abandoned in downtown New Orleans. Not much has changed at Big Charity since Hurricane Katrina shut its doors in 2005. In north Baton Rouge, another LSU hospital — this one locked up as part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s effort to … Continue reading →

Gov. Bobby Jindal goes light with budget vetoes

Advocate file photo -- The Louisiana state Capitol building in Baton Rouge.

Gov. Bobby Jindal didn’t need to refill his ink pen Friday when he tackled next year’s $24.6 billion state operating budget. Using his line-item veto power, Jindal only struck eight things from House Bill 1, the state spending plan for the fiscal year that starts next month. After last year’s legislative session, Jindal issued 31 line-item vetoes … Continue reading →

Pineville hospital layoffs OK’d

State Civil Service director Shannon Templet has approved an employee layoff plan associated with the closure of LSU’s hospital in Pineville. The plan involves abolition of 123 positions at Huey P. Long Medical Center which is scheduled to close June 30. The hospital is the third LSU facility to close as a result of a Jindal … Continue reading →

Jindal signs WISE legislation

Advocate Photo by ELIZABETH CRISP -- During a ceremony at LSU on Thursday Gov. Bobby Jindal signed legislation to create the WISE Fund, a $40 million performance-based pot of money for Louisiana colleges and universities that will be linked to research and workforce development.

Louisiana colleges and universities will be able to compete for additional funding that’s intended to encourage innovation and commitment to key fields, thanks to a new program the state Legislature approved this session. Gov. Bobby Jindal signed House Bill 1033 during a ceremony at LSU on Thursday that drew higher education leaders from across the state. … Continue reading →

Senate panel clears deGravelles’s judgeship nomination

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced Baton Rouge attorney John W. “Johnny” deGravelles’s nomination as a federal judge. If confirmed by the full U.S. Senate, deGravelles will become a judge for the U.S. Middle District Court, based in Baton Rouge. U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu recommended deGravelles to the White House for appointment to the … Continue reading →

La. construction projects queue overloaded

Advocate photo by VERONICA DOMINACH -- Mercy Endeavors hopes to secure funding in the state construction budget to build a new senior activity center. Currently, seniors are using cramped quarters at the convent for exercise classes, nutrition lessons and other services. A zumba class is schedule every Thursday in New Orleans, La on June 12, 2014.

Like Santa filling his sack with toys on Christmas Eve, legislators crammed plenty of goodies into the state construction budget before leaving the State Capitol this year. There’s $2 million to move senior citizens’ Zumba lessons and nutrition classes out of a New Orleans convent and into a brand-new building. There’s $200,000 to build a football stadium … Continue reading →

TOPS changes still face uphill battle

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD - LSU President F. King Alexander, left, welcomes Phyllis Taylor to the podium to speak at a news conference about donations that should put LSU a step closer to finishing renovations to the university’s engineering complex on Tuesday at the Patrick F. Taylor Hall in Baton Rouge.

Phyllis Taylor, the influential defender of Louisiana’s TOPS program, concedes that some changes could be — and have been — made to the state’s generous tuition assistance offering. It could use a needs-based component. Courses could be more rigorous. Maybe it shouldn’t be tied to tuition, she says. But Taylor disagreed with efforts during the 2014 … Continue reading →