(Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 7:04 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — A New Orleans lawmaker said Wednesday that he's asked for the attorney general's opinion on whether Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration can move ahead with privatizing most of the LSU-run hospitals without legislative approval.
Rep. Jared Brossett said he filed an official request for legal guidance on the matter with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.
Brossett, D-New Orleans, said he believes that because the hospitals are public assets, turning them over to private managers should require legislative backing.
"This opinion is necessary to preserve the integrity of the legislative process and the legislative branch's right to be involved in issues impacting the welfare of the state," he wrote in his request to Caldwell.
Jindal's health secretary, Bruce Greenstein, said the law doesn't require legislative approval of the privatization agreements and the administration doesn't intend to seek a vote.
"They don't need to take a vote up or down. That's not a part of the statute," Greenstein said. He added, "We've looked very closely over the statutes that pertain to this. We've had our attorneys and LSU attorneys look at this."
Greenstein said his department has turned over operation of other state-owned health care facilities to private companies without specific legislative authorization, most recently a state psychiatric hospital in St. Tammany Parish.
Agreements have been announced that will turn over management of the university hospitals in New Orleans, Lafayette, Houma and Lake Charles to nonprofit corporations that run private hospitals in the regions. Administration officials say similar deals also are in the works for LSU's hospitals in Monroe, Pineville and Bogalusa.
Hefty savings from the privatizations are assumed in Jindal's budget proposal for the upcoming 2013-14 fiscal year.
None of the financial arrangements has been completed — or unveiled to the public. Greenstein said he expects all the agreements to be done within three months, with some wrapped up within the next month.
Greenstein said the completed deals will go to lawmakers on the joint House and Senate budget committee for review, and he said the Jindal administration is working with lawmakers as they craft the plans.
The university-run hospitals provide safety net care for the uninsured and help train most of the state's medical students.
"The state has an interest in ensuring the continued existence of an equitable, accessible, affordable public health care system that delivers quality services and is accountable to the communities it serves," Brossett wrote.
Caldwell spokeswoman Amanda Larkins said the attorney general's office received Brossett's request Wednesday and would immediately begin processing it. She said she couldn't provide a timeline for when a response would be ready for the lawmaker.