The Louisiana Department of Health’s funding for next year, in the state budget passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor which is now under review by the House Appropriations Committee, is over $14 billion. That’s about a half-billion dollar increase from the $13.6 billion at which LDH is funded in the current fiscal year, and it’s a gargantuan increase from the FY 2013-14 LDH budget of $8.7 billion.
Never in the history of Louisiana has a state agency seen such an orgy of expansion as the Louisiana Department of Health is currently undergoing. And the Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie), undertook yesterday to put the LDH budget under review for the purposes of attempting to find ways to pare back some of the increases – in an effort to balance the state’s budget with as small a tax increase as possible, assuming that increase is even necessary. After all, a clawback of just 10 percent of LDH’s funding increase – not the overall budget, the increase – over the past five years would resolve the budget deficit.
And as Henry noted during yesterday’s testimony, the state-funded portion of LDH’s budget has increased by $700 million over the past 10 years, while the rest of state government has decreased by more than $600 million in that same time frame. Now – 10 years is a bad window from which to view Louisiana’s budget picture, because 10 years ago was the height of Louisiana’s post-Katrina budget binge fueled by federal dollars in recovery money and the indirect economic effect on private sector spending those dollars generated. Any 10-year budget analysis will therefore be flawed. Nevertheless, the fact LDH has exploded in funding while things like higher education (down more than $500 million in funding from the state general fund over the past 10 years) and 15 of the other 18 state agencies have fallen in real dollars makes it quite obvious that LDH is eating away at Louisiana’s ability to make investments in anything else.
This is largely due to the decision to expand Medicaid, as our readers know – a decision which was made unilaterally by Gov. John Bel Edwards upon taking office in January 2016. Here’s a quick chart of the LDH budget in the relevant time frame…
2013-14: $8.7 billion
2014-15: $9.0 billion
2015-16: $9.5 billion
2016-17: $12.5 billion
2017-18: $13.6 billion
2018-19: $14.0 billion
It being 2016-17 when the Medicaid expansion first impacted the state budget.
So yesterday, amid a marathon session in Appropriations, LDH Secretary Rebekah Gee was asked lots of questions about the specifics of her department’s spending, and committee members were generally unimpressed at her protestations of fiscal responsibility.
But during some friendly questions by left-wing Democrat Rep. Pat Smith, Gee pulled the pin on an ideological grenade by accusing someone of conducting a war on poor people, and raising eyebrows all over the Capitol. Here’s the video of that mini-rant…
A few minutes later, Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), chair of the House Republican Delegation, challenged Gee’s statement and got her to admit she wasn’t aiming her statements at the Republican members of the committee but, we assume, Republicans in general. Harris asked her for a source of her rhetoric and she offered a gauzy answer of various “studies” of public opinion she’d seen – but couldn’t name any specific ones. She then threw the race card into the pile for good measure.
To boil this down, LDH is a runaway train of your tax dollars, on an unsustainable path toward bankrupting the state of Louisiana, and when its head official is being asked to justify its funding nearly doubling in five years with no evidence of marked improvement in the health outcomes of Louisiana’s citizens her response is to accuse critics of (1) hating the poor and (2) racism.
This is the lowest form of base demagoguery, and it ought to be beneath someone the people of Louisiana entrust to shepherd half the state’s budget. In a sane world Rebekah Gee would be out of a job amid a furor of outrage this morning, though this is very clearly not a sane world.
Which leads us to one observation. If there is really a war on poor people going on, at least in Louisiana the poor people are most certainly winning it – after all, thanks to the administration Gee serves in there are more poor people in Louisiana than there used to be. That’s what you get when yours is the worst-performing economy in America and for the past two years your economy has shrunk. Thanks to the Medicaid expansion Gee and Edwards have shepherded into being there are 475,000 more Louisianans on the government healthcare dole, an indeterminate number of which used to be covered by private health insurance.
And for Dr. Gee’s edification, it’s not a war on poor people afoot – it’s a recognition that it isn’t sustainable for bureaucrats like her and politicians like Edwards to put an ever-increasing number of people on board rapidly-expanding and utterly inefficient entitlement programs. She’s busily socializing medicine in Louisiana, making connected fatcats rich with hospital contracts along the way while the state’s taxpayers and private-sector workers groan under the strain of funding it all.