Medicaid Cuts Put Lake Charles’ Charity Hospital On Firing Line

Most Lake Charles area legislators said they don’t believe the sky is falling at Moss Regional Medical Center, and that’s good news. However, that wasn’t their view when Gov. Bobby Jindal first said on July 24 he was cutting $329 million from LSU’s charity hospital and clinic network.

Citizens served by Moss Regional were also worried about the future of the hospital that serves their health care needs. State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, echoed their concerns. He said people unable to get health care would be lining up at local hospital emergency rooms with lines running out the door.

Moss Regional sees 120,000 outpatients annually, and 65 percent of those are uninsured, according to Johns.

“That’s 78,000 people out there who do not qualify for Medicaid…. Those numbers are going to be much larger at other hospitals,” he said.

Bruce Greenstein, secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals, said LSU needed time to develop a plan.

Johns said, “I just worry how do we take care of those people if some of these doomsday scenarios happen? The private hospital sector is absolutely fearful of people showing up on the steps of their emergency room.”

Other legislators also voiced concerns about the health care facilities in their areas.

The Jindal administration still hasn’t said much about how it plans to solve the charity system’s cuts, but assured everyone that everything was right with the world. And sure enough — once again — through a series of financial maneuvers budget writers managed to find money to soften that $329 million blow. It was down to $50 million three days later, and the bleak forecasts almost disappeared. But Moss Regional was still targeted.

“Moss Regional hit hard: LC hospital will bear among heaviest burdens of cuts,” said last Saturday’s headline in the American Press.

That sounds pretty scary to me. The story said the Moss Regional budget would be cut by about $11 million and that would lead to reductions in clinic operations, the elimination of all but 10 inpatient beds and reductions in staff.

OK, so what has changed?

The LSU Board of Supervisors last Friday finally explained how its health care system will deal with the $329 million in cuts. The Advocate reported that doctors are going to take less money, purchases will be delayed and some existing state funds will be used to match federal dollars.

Those local hospitals that Johns thought would be swamped indicated they were ready to take on the challenge. Officials at Lake Charles Memorial, Women’s and Children’s and Jennings American Legion hospitals said they are willing to help provide patients with care. Johns said Tuesday that West Calcasieu-Cameron Hospital in Sulphur is also up to the task.

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, RLake Charles, and Johns, point men on the Moss situation, said the news isn’t as bad as first expected, but the details are still sketchy. Fred Cerise, LSU System vice president for health affairs and medical education, had a meeting scheduled with local legislators Wednesday afternoon to discuss the Moss situation in detail.

Unfortunately, the meeting was closed to the public that is served by the local hospital. So those who could be directly affected will have to wait for the details from area legislators who attended. This doesn’t come as any big surprise because the Jindal administration is one of the most secretive we’ve seen in recent years.

Persons served by the charity system have been given few details and have heard the same upbeat stories from members of the administration since the hospital reductions were announced over a week ago. Jindal expressed optimism the day he announced the cuts, but legislators who were kept in the dark were still bombarded with calls from concerned citizens served by charity hospitals.

The governor said, “They (charity hospitals) are going to have to work aggressively to do more with less, but again their priority is to protect critical services and we’ll continue to do that.”

Greenstein said LSU needs to modernize its hospital system, improve efficiencies and rely on more partnerships with private health care facilities.

Paul Rainwater, state commissioner of administration, said, “We are going to continue what we are doing. We believe what we have done is put together a prudent plan.”

Only bits and pieces of that plan have surfaced, but it appears to be enough to satisfy many of the legislators who had earlier expressed frustrations over the absence of details. Area legislators have promised to let the rest of us know exactly what’s going on as soon as they are adequately briefed.

Maybe Moss Regional will survive to serve patients another day, but Cerise has made it clear there are still some cold, hard facts out there. LSU hospitals statewide will see a reduction of about 79,000 outpatient visits and offer about 12,400 fewer days of in-hospital care. Those patients who use the public hospitals for outpatient treatment will be left without health care services, Cerise said.

If you are one of those patients, you are going to need some “rosecolored glasses” to see any reasons for the optimism being expressed by officials in the Jindal administration.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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