Hospital budget protection amendment clears final legislative hurdle

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Louisiana voters will be asked to consider whether to provide more financial stability for hospitals, nursing homes, intermediate care facilities and pharmacists after a bill cleared its final legislative hurdle Sunday afternoon.

The Louisiana House concurred in state Senate changes to language in House Bill 533, sponsored by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, on a vote of 92 to 7.

Opponents had argued that protecting health care would be to the detriment of higher education — the only other big unprotected area of the budget.

HB533’s companion legislation, House Bill 532 would create the Hospital Stabilization Fund with the hospitals able to impose upon themselves a special assessment. The hospital dollars set aside from operational revenues would be used to attract federal funds to enhance the Medicaid dollars they receive for patient care. HB532 cleared the Legislature on May 28.

House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, said hospitals need stability after $260 million in budget cuts since 2009. He said hospitals are getting reimbursed 60 cents for every $1 of care. The assessment should bring reimbursement to 80 cents on the dollars, he said.

An assessment distribution formula would be approved annually by the Legislature. A rate floor would also be established as well as a potential inflationary factor in which the base rate could go up every year.

HB533 would provide protections by requiring a super-majority vote of the Legislature to cut the base rate and the cut cannot exceed the average for other Medicaid program provides.

HB533 also would provide constitutional protections for existing “bed taxes” and other fees paid by nursing homes, pharmacies and intermediate care facilities. It would also keep separate accounts for each entity within the fund. The proposition would establish a Medicaid rate floor that cannot be reduced and provides for an inflation factor.

As a constitutional amendment, the measure is not sent to the governor. Instead a majority of the state’s voters will have approve for the measure to become law.