Editorial: State's hospice cuts unconscionable, inhumane

The latest round of budget cuts ordered by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration dramatically affects some Louisiana residents

who are near the end of their life’s journey.

Earlier this month, the

administration announced that funding of hospice for Medicaid patients

who are not in a nursing home

would be ended in February. However, funding will be provided for

those Medicaid hospice patients who are currently receiving

care.

The reduction comes in the program as part of the plan to deal with a $166 million mid-year shortfall in the state’s budget.

Hospice care is normally accorded

to people who are terminally ill and addresses the physical, emotional,

social and spiritual

needs of the patient. It services often include physicians,

nurses, chaplains and volunteers who visit the patient and a bereavement

program to help family members after the death of their loved

ones.

About 5,800 Medicaid patients received hospice care in Louisiana during fiscal year 2011-2012.

As expected, the cuts in state funding for the hospice program has been met with howls of protest.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, accused the administration of misleading state lawmakers regarding the cuts to the

hospice funding.

The executive director of the New

Orleans-based Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice and Palliative Care

Organization said the cuts

will wind up costing the state money because many of the patients

who, heretofore, have been treated at home will wind up

in emergency rooms across the state. He said those hospice

patients who spend their final days in the comfort of their home

save the state money.

‘‘They’re going to be left to fend for themselves,’’ said Jamey Boudreaux, adding they won’t have the emotional support for

what for many is the most trying time in their life.

He also noted that other states that have cut funding for hospice programs have reversed course and reinstated it.

Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein said the state had no other choice and that hospice patients

could rely on faith-based or nonprofit organizations to provide for hospice services.

If these cuts seem cruel, they are. Unconscionable may be a better description. Inhumane also aptly fits.

In the state’s $25 billion budget,

where $166 million is less than 1 percent and what the state spends on

Hospice care is

a fraction of that number, there had to be other areas that could

have been trimmed long before a program that helps comfort

people in their final days.

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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.