The Washington Monument Strategy Comes To The Nursing Homes

You’ve probably heard by now, since it’s all over every legacy media outlet in the state, that the Louisiana Senate is kicking around the state budget which came over from the House and balances without raising taxes. But that budget is just the worst thing ever, don’t you know, and because it makes such deep cuts to the Louisiana Department of Health there will be mass chaos, death and destruction. So bad, in fact, that people will be evicted from all the nursing homes.

Seriously. That’s what’s going to happen. We know because the state Department of Health, which never lies or wastes our money, tells us so.

The Louisiana Department of Health is preparing to send notifications to 37,000 people who are elderly and disabled this week that they will lose Medicaid benefits after July 1. Even if state lawmakers find the money to pay for those services before then, state officials said they were compelled to warn Medicaid recipients that the cuts are a distinct possibility.

“We can’t just afford to bury our heads in the sand,” said Jay Dardenne, Gov. John Bel Edwards‘ chief budget officer and the state’s commissioner of administration. “We tried to delay this as long as we possibly can.”

Those receiving notification include around 20,000 people who live in nursing homes, thousands of people with intellectual disabilities who live in group homes and those who receive home health care assistance. All of their support services would be at risk, including the ability to stay in a nursing home, if state Medicaid funding is slashed.

The Louisiana House approved a state operating budget last month that would eliminate four Medicaid programs for the disabled and elderly. Notices are scheduled to go out to those affected Thursday (May 9), though their delivery has been pushed back previously. Dardenne said the 37,000 people will also be contacted to see if they qualify for some other kind of Medicaid service that isn’t proposed for elimination.

And naturally the members of the Louisiana Senate Finance Committee, chaired of course by Democrat Eric Lafleur (2016-17 LABI scorecard: 34 percent), took turns clucking about how terrible it is that all these poor people will be fed to the alligators…

“This makes us look pretty heartless,” said Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, after a few hours of public testimony.

The personal stories, as they usually do, humanized the role of the state budget, which has otherwise been mired in politics this calendar year. The version sent to the Senate by the House last month reduced health care funding by $432 million, which LaFleur estimated would leave 45,000 individuals with disabilities without critical services—and it’s a cut that would actually equate to a $1.6 billion loss when federal matching dollars are sacrificed.

The possibility of such a change in services made for a tough public hearing. “I apologize that you have to go through this again,” said Sen. Regina Barrow, D-New Orleans, with a polite nod to the perennial doom-and-gloom narratives that surface toward the end of each regular session.

“It’s hard, but important to listen to testimony in some cases where people are begging for their lives,” tweeted Greg Hilburn, a reporter for the USA Today Network of Louisiana papers who joined other journalists tracking the hearing. Earlier in the day Hilburn broke the story that the Louisiana’s Department of Health will likely send nursing home eviction notices Thursday to more than 30,000 residents. Last week, Lafayette General Medical Center also sent layoff notices to its employees, noting uncertainty in the budget process.

In the face of such criticism, Republicans in the House are pushing to have their budget bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee. While leery, and accepting of the fact that hearings may need to be restarted in an approaching special session, leaders in the upper chamber are trying in earnest to forge a seemingly impossible compromise that heeds the broad-based visions that the House put in the budget, takes into account the Senate’s concerns and attempts to avoid the veto pen of the governor.

Some senators are hopeful that amendments will be heard soon and an altered budget will be passed to the full chamber by the end of the week. But those alterations will have to be significant. “It’s the worst budget I’ve ever seen in the 18 years that I’ve been here,” Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, told LaPolitics in an interview last week.

Ronnie Johns (2016-17 LABI scorecard: 64 percent) claims to be a Republican. And he says that a budget which is balanced without raising taxes, which is one of the five largest budgets in Louisiana history, is the worst he’s seen in 18 years at the Capitol.

Of course those notices going out – which former Louisiana House Speaker Jim Tucker, who now runs a nursing home, declared yesterday would actually kill people – didn’t need to happen now. They could have waited at least another month. LDH sent them out as a particularly malicious manifestation of the Washington Monument Strategy that Louisiana’s ruling class at the Capitol slavishly adheres to whenever there is a prospect of a budget cut.

In case you don’t know what the Washington Monument Strategy is, you might not be a regular Hayride reader. We talk about this all the time. The Washington Monument Strategy is a pernicious governmental tactic which essentially operates as finding the most high-profile, painful and unacceptable possible manifestation of a budget cut and declare that’s what will happen if the budget doesn’t grow to meet government’s desires. In other words, closing the Washington Monument if there aren’t tax increases.

Or in Louisiana’s case, closing the nursing homes and feeding the elderly to the alligators. Or something.

These people shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt. They’ve established themselves as liars beyond any real argument.

We can make such a statement because earlier in this legislative session Sen. Conrad Appel brought a bill that would allow senior citizens on Medicaid who are not so far gone that they need to be in a nursing home to opt for in-home assistance, which is significantly cheaper. Appel estimated allowing those Medicaid patients to opt for a cheaper solution, something AARP studies indicate is favored by more than 70 percent of the people in such a situation, would save Louisiana more than $100 million per year.

And Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Louisiana Department of Health and particularly the nursing home lobby, fought that bill like rabid dogs and killed it in committee.

Now they’re saying they want to pitch 20,000 people to the curb because there isn’t enough money to continue housing them.

There’s an old saying that pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered. It’s hard to sympathize with this crowd when you can’t hear yourself think for all the loud oinking. Especially when you know that we don’t slaughter any hogs in this state. We just let them get fatter, and fatter, until they crowd out all the space in the barnyard for all the other animals – who then depart for Texas.

Why isn’t Edwards or LDH on board with HB 480, the bill which would match Medicaid applications with Louisiana Department of Revenue tax form data to make sure there aren’t tens or even hundreds of thousands of people fraudulently getting covered by Medicaid at an average cost to the state of $500 per month? In testimony in the House two weeks ago it was calculated this was $498 million in straight-up waste, which were it eliminated would put the state in a position nobody would need to be booted out of a nursing home.

HB 480 barely passed out of the House and it’s now in the Senate, where it will almost assuredly die. Today it’s going to get referred to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Lafleur chairs, and when it gets there it will be demagogued as an attack on poor people, who apparently have the right to lie to the state of Louisiana about their income, and promptly dispatched.

Despite how obvious it is that spending Louisiana’s Medicaid resources on needy people who are actual medical patients rather than healthy people who are neither poor nor sick, and furthermore have been caught lying about their income, is the prudent course of action.

Or maybe the state could go to a first-in, first-out method on Medicaid to address the issue of trying to pay for only those people who need help rather than trying to socialize medicine through the back door.

Why aren’t any of these ideas being kicked around by Edwards, or Dardenne, or Jeff Reynolds who appears to be the person in charge at LDH since Rebekah Gee, its secretary, appears more interested in moonlighting as a doctor at LSU’s hospital in New Orleans than testifying on behalf of the agency she runs at the Legislature?

That’s easy. They’re not interested in solving problems or running a tight ship. They’re interested in bilking the public for as much swag as they can get their hands on. And the easiest way to do this is to scare the crap out of all the old people in the nursing homes and making people panic – so that when the tax increases inevitably come we’ll all be grateful, and call it statesmanship.

Despite the fact this obese, corrupt and dishonest government is destroying Louisiana’s economy. This state is in the midst of an economic recession which has seen its economy shrink two years in a row, and Louisiana was the worst-performing economy in the country in 2017. You want to see a budget cut? How about this – Louisiana lost 0.4 percent of its GDP in 2016 and another 0.2 percent in 2017. With a state economy of $251 billion in current dollars, that’s a good $1.5 billion budget cut to the people of the state. That’s your actual money being cut.

Does anybody at that capitol give a damn? Hell, no. They’re up there trying to figure out how to keep fattening the hogs.

Are you angry about it? What are you going to do about it?

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