NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is already preparing to cut funding to facilities and services even before lawmakers meet this weekend.
"That's a horrible scenario for a full year, it's a catastrophic scenario for a quarter of a year," DHH spokesman Bob Johannessen said.
Louisiana's combined $2.9 billion budget deficit for this fiscal year and next could mean drastic cuts to health care, as some officials warn of hospital shutdowns and cuts to programs that allow patients to receive dialysis and hospice care.
"If cuts like this had to be made, not only would hospitals face the possibility of closing and the patients that rely on those hospitals would have to go somewhere else. You're talking about hospitals being economic engines for the communities they serve. People would lose jobs. The ripple effect is just unthinkable," Johannessen said.
DHH is preparing for two options, both of which would total $131 million in cuts.
"When you multiply that with the federal funds that's those dollars attract, you're talking about a total hit to the health care budget of $346 million," Johannessen said.
The first option would cut funding to public/private partner hospitals. With that plan, New Orleans' University Medical Center would be cut $24 million, according to Johannessen.
The other option would take money away from optional Medicaid programs, meaning services like hospice and dialysis would not be available for some people.
"At the end of this fiscal session, we're probably going to be paying a little bit more and getting a little be less from government," FOX 8 political analyst Mike Sherman said. "The tough question for the legislature is who's going to be specifically paying more and who's going to go be specifically be getting less service."
State lawmakers are dealt the task of finding the funds to balance the budget, keep hospitals from closing and services from ending.
A mix of funding cuts and increased taxes is expected to fill those gaps.
"I can't make the statement that everyone in the state will feel the affects in the same manner, certainly people that are receiving those waivers or they're receiving health care through the state through our medicaid program there would be some adjustments on that level," State Rep. Stephanie Hilferty said.
"In some parts of the state, the hospital is the hospital. If the hospital closes, you go a long way to get to a hospital. People are truly put in the cross hairs here," State Rep. Walt Leger III said. "The reality is that some of these services will not be able to continue to be offered unless the legislature acts. It's important that unless the legislature acts part because we do have the ability to do that."
Health care and higher education are most vulnerable to cuts because the two are not protected constitutionally nor by state law.
"What you could potentially see are hospital closures if we don't right this ship. There's some pretty dire consequences to the health care industry but we are certainly looking to move forward in a responsible manner," Hilferty said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards plans to introduce his budget Saturday before lawmakers begin the special session Sunday.