A state healthcare financing plan devised by state Sen. David Heitmeier, D-Algiers, continues to pay dividends for local hospitals hard hit by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Heitmeier told Gambit last week that preliminary figures for next year's state budget show $468 million in additional federal funds under his health-care financing plan.
Dubbed "The Heitmeier Plan" in recognition of the Algiers senator's efforts to increase Louisiana's share of federal reimbursement dollars, the plan uses existing local and state health-care funds to draw down a larger share of federal "upper payment limit" funds. The plan has been particularly helpful to East Jefferson General Hospital, Ochsner Medical Center and West Jefferson Medical Center — as well as public and private hospitals across the state.
"The state has realized approximately $190 million to date in additional federal dollars because of the way we now leverage our existing healthcare spending," Heitmeier said. "That money has come to Louisiana since last December. Once it's fully functional, the various ways that we are maximizing our potential drawdowns will bring in close to a half-billion dollars a year — all without any increase in taxes."
The plan had to be approved by federal officials. So far, the feds have approved "UPL" plans for physicians and for hospitals that provided care for needy and uninsured patients. In addition to helping community and private hospitals address post-Katrina operating deficits, the new plan also helps provide healthcare services to needy citizens.
Heitmeier, a practicing optometrist on the West Bank, says he is working on improved UPL plans for service-district hospitals — such as East Jeff and West Jeff — and for ambulance services. The ambulance UPL could help public hospitals as well as parishes that provide EMS services, including Orleans. "These are dollars that Louisiana rightfully deserves," Heitmeier says. — Clancy DuBos