BATON ROUGE — Louisiana’s Department of Health will begin sending nursing home eviction notices Thursday to more than 30,000 residents who could lose Medicaid under the budget passed by the state House of Representatives.
“The Louisiana Department of Health is beginning the process of notifying all impacted enrollees that some people may lose their Medicaid eligibility,” Department of Health spokesman Bob Johannessen said. “The goal of the department is to give notice to all affected people as soon as possible in order that they begin developing their appropriate plans.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ staff has planned a press conference Wednesday for more details, a day before the notices are set to be mailed to 37,000 Medicaid recipients in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.
“(The Department of Health) told us they’re sending out the letters May 10,” said Mark Berger, executive director of the Louisiana Nursing Home Association, during testimony at the Senate Finance Committee meeting Monday.
Medicaid is a federal-state collaboration covering more than 70 million people, or about 1 in 5 Americans, making it the largest government health insurance program. President Obama expanded the program by allowing states to cover millions more low-income adults.
Rolling back the expansion has been a longtime goal of the GOP. The Trump administration has encouraged states to reshape their Medicaid programs, paving the way for states like Kentucky and Michigan to include new measures like work requirements for able-bodied adults.
In Louisiana, the issue was front and center in the state Senate Finance, which was hearing public testimony on the budget sent to it by the House for most of the eight hours the panel met.
“This sounds like mass chaos,” said Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, who called the letter notification “very troublesome.”
“What type of people are we in Louisiana if we put people out who built Louisiana?” Sen. Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport, said of the potential evictions. “This is horrible.”
Next year’s budget begins July 1, which is when the evictions could technically begin.
The budget passed by the House and sent to the Senate contains deep cuts to healthcare because of a shortfall of between $550 million and $648 million, depending on who’s doing the calculations.
Next year’s shortfall was created because about $1.4 billion in temporary taxes expire June 30. The bulk of the expiring taxes, about $880 million, comes from a one-cent sales tax.
Last week one of the state’s safety net hospitals, Lafayette General, sent notices to 800 employees that the medical center will close and they will lose their jobs under the budget being debated now. The other safety net hospitals are expected to follow suit.
Edwards wants lawmakers to mitigate the cuts with new permanent taxes in a Special Session, but the Legislature declined to raise any new taxes in a February Special Session.
“This is our cry for help,” said Laurie Boswell, chief executive of Holy Angels in Shreveport, which supports long-term residential care for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. “There is no place for them to go.”
“This make us look heartless,” said Senate Finance Chair Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte.
Berger said the scheduled notification “will cause unimaginable grief and stress” to nursing home residents and their families.
He said if the $230 million in Medicaid cuts remain intact, “the vast majority of nursing homes will close.” The would also eliminate more than 25,000 jobs in the industry, Berger said.
Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, said he believes sending the notification to nursing home residents and others in long-term residential care is premature.
“I don’t see how in good conscience they can do that to these older folks,” White said.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, said the Department of Health should be focused on identifying fraud and saving money there “rather than kicking grandma out of the nursing home.”
The governor wants to end the ongoing Regular Session early and convene another Special Session to try again. Taxes can’t be considered in this year’s Regular Session.
“This budget may have to come out as it is hoping we get more revenue,” said Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin.
Edwards, House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, have agreed on the concept of ending early and convening a Special Session in mid-May, but they haven’t made a concrete commitment.
That has frustrated the governor.
“Nothing is more important than fixing this budget and we can’t do that in the Regular Session,” Edwards said last week.