With record amounts of revenue at their disposal, state policymakers made a last-minute decision to cut $100 million that supports health care programs for low-income Louisianans. The true cost of the cut to the Louisiana Department of Health could increase to $500 million when including the loss of matching federal funds. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports on the confusion surrounding the reduction and what it means for the state. 

The reduction could specifically fall on hospitals that receive extra money to treat people with publicly-funded Medicaid insurance, and the loss of funding may cause those institutions to pull back on their services for low-income patients. “I don’t have a problem making cuts when necessary, but we have a $2.2 billion surplus,” said Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, who voted against the budget plan over the health care reduction. “Why are we cutting the poorest of the poor?”  

The plan instructs the state to save $22 million by giving LDH less time to review the Medicaid eligibility of 40% of the state’s population for the first time in three years. Predictably, this is a bad idea. 

They want the Medicaid purge to happen over nine months instead of 12. But state health officials have repeatedly said that speeding up that process is more difficult than House members suggest. Louisiana Health Secretary Stephen Russo told lawmakers last month he couldn’t shorten the disenrollment timeline without federal approval — a process that could take several weeks. Russo also said the state could face large federal fines if the Biden administration determined it was kicking people out of Medicaid recklessly, so it behooves the state to move through the program at a deliberate pace. 

A messy compromise on state budget
The last half hour of the 2023 legislative session saw lawmakers rush to pass a state budget as some members traded profanities and barbs. The petulant fighting, and ensuing inadequate budget, were unnecessary for a legislative body with record amounts of revenue at its disposal. An Advocate editorial applauds the Legislature for raising a spending cap to allow $1.6 billion in new investments in construction projects but cautions lawmakers’ propensity for pork projects.

Still, every compromise necessarily contains some big “buts.” Chief among them: This budget is larded with local projects that legislators want the state to pay for, enabling them to play Santa Claus in an election year. So, while budget experts troll through the spending plan over the next few weeks to discern what’s in and what’s out — or, like early childhood education, underfunded compared to the need — we look forward to see the roll call of political pork. It won’t be pretty. Nor should the image of a chaotic end to the session be forgotten. Muscling through the budget over the objections of the spending rebels at the last minute means voters will need a while to figure out what was done, or not done.

Tough bill to tackle state’s reading problems
Under legislation passed during the 2023 legislative session, third-grade students in Louisiana will be held back if they fail to pass a mandatory reading assessment. Fewer than 50% of Louisiana K-3 students are reading on grade level. But Rep. Richard Nelson’s House Bill 12, now headed to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk for a signature or veto, seeks to mimic the significant strides Mississippi has made to improve student reading scores. An Advocate editorial supports the new approach but cautions that simply holding children back isn’t the answer. 

Given the experience elsewhere with this particular approach, perhaps this is the time to try it in Louisiana’s schools. But we must be aware of the impact of holding a child back in an early grade. A longtime head of Louisiana’s prison system once said he could predict the population of the jails years ahead of time, by looking at how many children had failed the third grade that year. Real success can change that dynamic, but it will take a considerable commitment.

Student loan moratorium ending
Tucked away inside the recent deal to suspend the debt ceiling was a provision to end the federal moratorium on student loan payments. The payment pause, first enacted by former-President Donald Trump in March 2020 at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and extended eight times by President Joe Biden, will resume in early September. Vox’s Allie Volpe explains how borrowers can prepare for the moratorium’s end if they can’t afford payments. 

Unless you choose otherwise, all borrowers are placed on a standard repayment plan, which means you pay a fixed amount of at least $50 every month for up to 10 years. There are other payment plans if the standard monthly payment is too high for you. Through your loan servicer, you can opt for a graduated repayment plan, which starts with lower payments that increase every two years, or an extended repayment plan where you can pay off your loan in 25 years if you have more than $30,000 in loans. Keep in mind you’ll end up paying more in the long run with these options.

Note: The average monthly student loan payment for a recent bachelor’s
degree recipient is $278. 

Number of the Day
– Estimated percentage of Louisiana’s population that is currently on Medicaid. The recently passed state budget instructs the state to save $22 million by giving LDH less time to review Medicaid eligibility for the first time in three years. (Source: Louisiana Department of Health)