Budget chairman: Jindal health care budget shaky

Gov. Bobby Jindal

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Lawmakers on the House budget committee on Tuesday criticized Gov. Bobby Jindal’s 2014-15 health care spending plan, saying it uses $680 million in piecemeal financing that could jeopardize services in later years.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin pointed to the Jindal administration’s draining of an elderly trust fund to plug budget holes and using money from a tax amnesty program to fill gaps in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Similar amounts won’t be available a year later from those sources, which the Republican governor used in his spending plans for the Department of Health and Hospitals.
Fannin, R-Jonesboro, questioned how that money would be replaced and if services would be kept intact.
“We’re digging the hole deeper and deeper,” said Fannin, R-Jonesboro. “My calculator’s adding up a lot of challenges for you.”
“I agree,” said Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert.
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said the hole looks so big, “I almost wish I wasn’t coming back next year.”
Lawmakers in the House have repeatedly worried that the budget proposals crafted by the Jindal administration create ongoing annual shortfalls because they are balanced with legal settlements, surplus dollars and other one-time sources of cash. Despite the concerns, the Legislature has continued to agree to use the money.
Kliebert said the Jindal administration is working on proposals to draw down more federal health care financing to balance DHH’s budget in future years. She said the administration also expects Louisiana’s improving economy to generate new dollars for the state treasury, and she said her department continues to become more efficient.
“Every year we have one-time revenue that we need to replace, and certainly we do that and meet our priorities,” Kliebert said.
The concerns were raised as the Appropriations Committee continues its agency-by-agency review of Jindal’s $25 billion budget proposal. More than $9.4 billion is allocated to DHH programs and services, mostly the Medicaid program that cares for the poor, elderly and disabled.
About 30 percent of Louisiana’s population is enrolled in Medicaid.
During the review, the Appropriations Committee learned the governor’s budget overestimated the tax amnesty money available to spend in the Medicaid program next year by $40 million.
But Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, the governor’s top budget adviser, told lawmakers that other dollars were available to cover the shortfall without making cuts, including money generated by a recent state bond sale.
While that satisfied some concerns, lawmakers criticized Jindal’s proposal to provide new services to the developmentally disabled with $12 million from the state’s pool of federal recovery money for hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
“This $12.1 million, in my opinion, is not sustainable,” said Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Erath. “How do you intend on replacing these dollars next year? It’s very unfair to these people who have been on the waiting list.”
Kliebert said the administration is committed that none of the people who get new services through the home- and community-based care program will lose the care.
Fannin was concerned that the governor proposed to drain a trust fund set aside for elderly care services. The trust fund contained more than $800 million when Jindal took office. With the governor’s plan to use $233 million in next year’s Medicaid budget, the fund will be nearly empty by 2015, most of it used to pay for nursing home care.

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