In early May, the Louisiana Department of Health sent notices to 37,000 people that their eligibility for Medicaid programs are at risk. But what the state calls “optional” programs include nursing home eligibility for elderly poor people, and caregivers for people with disabilities who are unable to safely live alone. The cuts are set to go through on July 1 if approved by the federal government, and if not reversed before then.
The Democratic governor sent the eviction notices to nursing home residents and their families after Republicans in the state legislature refused to renew temporary taxes set to expire June 30. This is expected to leave the state with a nearly $650 million budget shortfall. The legislators decided to drastically cut or outright eliminate four Medicaid programs that provide long-term care.
One of the four programs up for elimination, the Medicaid Long Term Care Special Income Level Program, includes nearly 80 percent of all Medicaid recipients in nursing homes. If these nursing home residents are forced out on the streets, the Louisiana Nursing Home Association warns, thousands of layoffs will result at nursing homes in the state. Losing such a large number of residents would close many nursing rooms altogether, leaving even residents with private insurance in danger as well, and potentially without a home.
If the cuts are approved, the total impact on health care services would amount to a cut of more than $1 billion when federal funding is accounted for. This would sharply affect private and public hospitals providing services to low-income people across Louisiana.
Lafayette General has already warned nearly 1,000 workers that they may lose their jobs at the charity hospital.
Scott Wester, CEO of Our Lady of the Lake, a private hospital in Baton Rouge, has anticipated closing a newly-opened emergency room in North Baton Rouge, urgent care clinics, a trauma center, and cutting LSU medical training programs in light of the proposed budget deficit.
LCMC Health, the private group that operates the University Medical Center in New Orleans, has threatened to pull out of its financial agreements with the state, if the cuts go through. The Louisiana State University and Tulane medical schools would lose $150 million, and even risk closure.
Cutting public services to make way for private profit
While the details may be unique in Louisiana, these sorts of cutbacks follow a pattern that is now familiar to poor and working people across the country — and indeed the world. First, tax cuts are given to the corporations and rich, based on false propaganda that their profits will lift everyone else. As state funding is slowly drained, public social services are declared non-essential, and the politicians find some way to say they are failing, bloated, or ineffective. Whatever remains of the service is privatized by another set of corporations who promise to save the day. What used to exist as a social right is converted into an unrecognizable for-profit product. Run by corporations, services erode further, with even less accountability than before.
Louisiana is no stranger to this cycle. It was a “testing grounds” for the privatization of social services, especially housing and education, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
State legislatures across the country present the budget and public services as a competition. Each constituency fights to maintain their slice of an ever shrinking pie. They tried the same thing in West Virginia when the teachers went on strike; the state threatened to cut Medicaid to pay for the teachers’ hard-earned raises. But it’s a false choice: the pie is actually growing. The economy remains highly profitable and workers are more productive than ever. The wealthy have hoarded more than enough for everyone to live with dignity.
The eviction of tens of thousands nursing home residents, and the elimination of home attendants for thousands of people with disability, are breathtaking acts of cruelty, amounting to a death sentence for many of them. A mass movement is needed to stop these evictions and instead to evict from office, and power, all the capitalist politicians who would even threaten such a measure. There is no excuse for this atrocity; it is the latest sign of the moral bankruptcy of the capitalist system.