UMC keeps pressure on lawmakers as special session nears an end

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The full state Senate is expected to take up an operating budget for state government over the weekend.

And University Medical Center is keeping up the pressure on state lawmakers until a budget that is in its best interest crosses the legislative finish line.

"UMC provides vital health care and medical training services for the state," said a hospital staffer during an intentional phone call.

Medical staffers used their lunch breaks to call state legislators Friday.

"We provide vital health care services to the community," said another UMC staffer to someone on the other end of the telephone.

The budget approved by House members earlier this week does not cut funding for state-owned hospitals and University Medical Center applauds that.

"Very encouraged by the progress that we've made and hopeful that we can continue the momentum that's being built," said Bill Masterton, President and CEO of University Medical Center.

Still, the state Senate must have its say on what the operating budget should contain. So at UMC there is still concern over the final outcome.

"It's always a concern as a resident training because we need extra funds to provide for the population for a very, very needy population," said Dr. C.J. Kwan, a resident at UMC.

As UMC staffers lobbied legislators by telephone, the Senate Finance Committee heard state agency leaders about their budget needs.

The Louisiana Health Department said even though safety-net hospitals are spared in the House budget other areas of healthcare would suffer including, mental health and substance abuse programs.

"We can't continue to cut and appropriately meet the needs of this state," said Dr. Rebekah Gee, Secretary of the La. Dept. of Health to senators on the Senate Finance Committee.

Even if the budget that ultimately makes it out of the legislative process spares UMC, if other critical health care programs are cut, University Medical Center would hospital feel an impact.

"When there aren't services available, safety-net hospitals and their emergency departments become the choice to for where to receive care," said Masterton.

A state senator on the Senate Finance Committee wants the state health department to crack down on Medicaid insurance recipients who are making unhealthy choices.

"If you persist in smoking even though the doctors have told you, you've got to stop smoking then either you're going to have to pick up some of your insurance costs or you're going to lose your insurance or something," said Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.

"Well, if we had evidence that, that works then we should do it, but right now we don't have evidence," answered Dr. Gee.

Saturday state senators are expected to unveil their budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Then on Sunday, the full state Senate is expected to debate that budget and the centerpiece sales tax legislation that will help fund it.

The special session must end by midnight on Monday.

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