DHH chief says proposed cuts to waiver program keep her up at night

DHH Chief says proposed cuts to waiver program keep her up at night

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - With less than three weeks remaining in the regular legislative session, what has not taken place inside the state Capitol has Louisiana's health chief nervous.

"I'm Secretary of Health, so my big worries, what keeps me up at night are these waiver programs," said Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee. "These are food for elderly people, providing services to families with children with disabilities that they rely on that. It is critically important to those children's health, so we still have a long way to go in terms of funding those waiver programs."

She referred to Medicaid home and community-based services for people who require specialized support.

"All of those things are in peril and unfunded and need to have some additional funding to increase my level of comfort," Gee said.

State government's bank remains hundreds of millions of dollars short for the new budget year which begins July 1, and state lawmakers continue to grapple with the budget that must be approved before the regular session ends June 6.

"The current budget cuts four of my six waivers, which is unacceptable," Gee said. "It also cuts health standards - the program that licenses facilities, make sure they're safe - and cuts restaurant inspections by half in the state. Those are things that make sure that when you go to a restaurant you're eating safe food."

Hundreds of medical students train at University Medical Center in New Orleans, and there has been lots of concern voiced about how deep budget cuts to DHH could end up affecting medical education.

"The House voted to add $70 million more to hospitals, so they ought to be a lot more optimistic than they were previous to that in terms of their overall budget," Gee said.

Gee believes the hospitals portion of her budget fared well in the spending plan the House approved. The Senate must still approve the budget.

And given that the budget has not made it through the full legislative process, leaders of LSU medical schools remain nervous about the ultimate funding their programs will receive.

"None of us like to pay more taxes, but we're going to have to look at some budget fixes to make sure that we're able to provide those life-saving and important services to people," said Gee.

Copyright 2016 WVUE. All rights reserved.