Dig Baton Rouge

Healthcare Meltdown

By Nick BeJeaux

Louisiana’s health care system is sick, according to doctors and community leaders disturbed by the recent closure of key medical facilities in Baton Rouge. First we bid farewell to Earl K. Long Hospital, and now the emergency room at Baton Rouge General.

The closure has raised questions about the states ability to fund adequate health services, like hospitals, ambulances, and clinics not only in BR, but state-wide. Last Wednesday, state senator Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, a Democrat whose district includes the now defunct ER appeared at a rally on the Capital Steps where she warned that if the situation is not stabilized, the consequences will be dire.

“People are going to die,” she said. “How do you put the lives of our people in jeopardy for money? We’re about to put the capitol into a death zone.”

With the closure of the ER at BR General, the only two hospitals in the city with emergency rooms, Ochsner and Our Lady of the Lake, are likely to see an uptick in emergency patients. However, Dorsey-Colomb’s republican colleague Senator Bodi White warned that the ripple effect from this closure will not only affect Baton Rouge. After all, when Earl K. Long closed almost two years ago, medical facilities in Zachary were inundated with patients – many of whom were uninsured, which created funding problems for Zachary’s hospitals.

“This is going to affect people in south Baton Rouge, the people in Central will feel it, so will East Feliciana and Zachary,” he said.

Senate President Pro Temp and Baton Rouge Democrat Sharon Broome brought up Governor Bobby Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid using funding granted by the Affordable Care Act, but also said Louisiana needs to look into private “partner collaborations” to help further offset costs. Denying the expansion of Medicaid has been seen as a major contributing factor to the closure of the ER, as many of its patients could not afford the emergency care they received without insurance, which they could also not afford.

Louisiana Progress, a non-profit and non-partisan watchdog organization, asserts that Louisiana’s health care woes would be non-existent, had Jindal accepted the billions of dollars from federal funding to expand Medicaid. A report released by Louisiana Progress this month states that should Louisiana opt-in to medicaid expansion, 242,000 uninsured people would be able to afford coverage. According to the report, this would consequently cut the number of uninsured patients dramatically, taking away the financial burdens that lead to the demise of BR General’s ER and EKL Hospital.

Peter Jenkins is a public policy graduate student at LSU, a prominent community organizer, and one of the 242,000 mentioned in Louisiana Progress’ report. When Jenkins turned 26 on January 3, he lost the health coverage from his parents’ plan. When he tried to enroll for his own health plan on healthcare.gov, he found that he didn’t earn enough to afford the premiums but he also made too much to qualify for Medicaid.

“I currently work a student job, so I’m limited to twenty hours a week, minimum wage – I just filed my taxes and found out I made $5,600 last year,” he said. “I make less than half of the minimum to qualify for subsidies on the health care exchange, but I would have been covered if the state decided to expand medicaid, but that didn’t happen. I don’t have the ability to pay for a hospital bill if something does happen, so I’m dreading any kind of medical issue I may have.”

When asked about the state and Governor Jindal’s choice to refuse medicaid, Jenkins says that he, and many people he’s spoken to with the same problem, takes it personally.

“I think it was selfish; I think he’s more concerned with his next job than he is than this one,” he said. “I’m not the only one with this problem and we’ve been calling for this to be fixed for years before I even had to deal with it personally. Unfortunately, I have to work just to live – so I I’m renting out my two bedroom apartment and sleeping in the living room just to get by each month. This means I can’t spend all my time running after Jindal petitioning him to fix it.”

Jindal has defended his position by saying that accepting the funds to expand Medicaid would cost Louisiana $1.7 billion a year and that by opting out, he’s saving the state money

“We need to save more people, that’s what we need to do – If we need to spend more money, yeah let’s do it,” said Jenkins. “If Jindal was really concerned about saving money, he would end the massive subsidies he’s granted for oil companies. We have a lot of oil, they’re not going to walk away for anything. We need to start taking care of our people first and worrying about the cost later.”

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