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Editorial: Reversal on hospice cuts great news for state

Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 7:56 PM

The better angels of Bobby Gov. Jindal’s nature prevailed Wednesday when it was announced his administration was reversing course and would fund a program that provides hospice care for dying Medicaid patients.

The administration said it will use about $1.1 million in grant money to keep the program going through June 30 when the state’s fiscal year ends.

Last month, the Department of Health and Hospitals said a $166 million midyear shortfall in the state budget would necessitate cuts in the hospice program as of Feb. 1. Current Medicaid patients who were receiving hospice care, which helps with the physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs of those who are near the end of their life’s journey, would be grandfathered in.

Reaction was both swift and loud. Hospice care proponents said patients at the most vulnerable stage of their life were going to be left to fend for themselves. Others pointed out that the end of the program could quadruple the state’s costs because patients who would have been served at home by hospice would wind up in hospital emergency rooms.

The turnaround was announced Wednesday at a protest rally on the steps of the Louisiana Capitol.

‘‘We can’t turn our backs on people at the end of life,’’ said Sherrill Phelps, program director at Christus Hospice and Palliative Care in Alexandria.

‘‘God answered a lot of prayers,’’ said Kristine Gulotta of Lafayette, whose mother was a hospice patient. ‘‘Hospice touched my life in a lot of ways, and they took really good care of my mother. It broke my heart when I thought they were going to cut the funding. Now my heart is full of happiness. It’s wonderful.’’

DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein said the state will look at changes to the program this spring with an eye on reducing costs.

This now-we-cut-it, now-we-don’t approach to such a vital program is a symptom of a bigger ill in the state budget. As pointed out by a group of conservative lawmakers, spearheaded by state Rep. Brett Geymann, too many areas of the state budget are immune to budget cuts.

Hence, when cuts are necessary, the burden falls on state-funded medical programs that serve the state’s poor and medically uninsured, i.e., programs like hospice, and higher education.

We applaud the governor on his course reversal and urge him to join the movement that will bring more common sense, transparency and fairness to the state’s budget process.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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