As Special Sessions begin, concerns mount over state health program

La. Legislature
Updated: Feb. 13, 2017 at 6:16 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Karen Scallan is filled with pride as she speaks of her son, Kevin.

"He is the world's biggest Saints fan, his entire room is Saints, everything is about the Saints and everything is about Drew Brees," said Scallan.

Her son is 15 and Scallan said he has Downs-Syndrome, autism and a congenital heart defect which necessitated his having open heart surgery last year.

Still he is active.

"He participates in Special Olympics sports," she said.

Scallan said her son is part of the Children's Choice Waiver Program that is part of Louisiana Department of Health.  The program offers supplemental support to children with developmental disabilities who live at home with their families.

"And that provides us the Medicaid Card for his health care, that's the only insurance we have for him," said Scallan.

As the special session was to kick off at the state capitol to tackle a $304 million budget shortfall, Governor John Bel Edwards has proposed a $128 million cut to the state health department.

"I know that the Department of Health is going to take a big hit with these cuts, children like ours are fragile, we need a host of services," Scallan said.

The governor also proposes using nearly $120 million of the state's so-called Rainy Day Fund, but some republicans remain staunchly against that, saying that spending is the state's biggest problem.

While the governor is not proposing cuts to the waiver programs like the one that Kevin benefits from, he maintains that without the Rainy Day Fund dollars, budget cuts would be more widespread and harsher.

"I am very concerned about not dipping into the Rainy Day Fund, that in itself right there tells me that services like those waiver services and additional services offered by the Human Services Authorities and Districts for people with mental health and developmental disabilities are going to be up for even more cuts if they don't do that, it's pretty terrifying," said Scallan.

The governor's proposed cuts affect medical education dollars and the private entities currently running the state's charity hospitals.

"The reductions to the graduate medical education payments are $3.5 million in state funds and $9.4 million total when you add in the lost federal share.

The reductions to the private hospital partners total $3.7 million in state funds and $9.7 million total when you add the lost federal dollars," said Robert Johannessen, Communications Director at the La. Department of Health.

Dr. Steve Nelson, M.D., Dean of LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine said talk of cuts that involve the private operators of state hospitals like the new University Medical Center in New Orleans could discourage medical students from seeking further training in Louisiana.

"And when they hear all of this about cuts and cuts to the partners and closing of certain facilities or downsizing of certain facilities, they have choices, these are highly competitive positions they can go wherever they want," said Dr. Nelson.

And it is not like any cuts to medical education training would not affect the public at-large.

"The thing that people need to remember is that LSU trains the majority of the health care professionals of this state, you know 70 percent of the doctors practiced or trained at an LSU facility," said Dr. Nelson.

Scallan plans to fight at the State Capitol to make sure state lawmakers do not reduce services her family and countless others rely on.

"It's like a Jenga game, you pull one thing out from the bottom and the whole thing falls down for us families," said Scallan.

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