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Uninsured Care Hot Topic
Late last week, the House Health and Welfare Committee was still sitting on a controversial bill that that would alter the way money for uninsured care flows to Louisiana's Charity hospitals — chiefly on the back of New Orleans' fledgling public hospital system. Senate Bill 402 by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, would "correct a disparity," the author says, in the way taxpayer dollars go to LSU-based University Hospital in New Orleans. Cassidy says the local hospital receives $3,144 per uninsured resident. By comparison, the Bogalusa Medical Center receives $993, Baton Rouge's Earl K. Long Medical Center gets $1,132, Lallie Kemp Regional Medical Center in Independence receives $835 and University Medical Center in Lafayette gets $820. That adds up to $308 million a year for New Orleans. The city's public hospital system gets nearly half of the state's $653 million spent annually on uninsured care, but it has only 20 percent of the state's uninsured population, says Cassidy. "There is no evidence that patients are sicker in New Orleans," says Cassidy, who is employed as a physician at Earl K. Long Medical Center.

Local lawmakers bristle at the possible loss of nearly $70 million a year for the local system, with many arguing that the main hospital performs complex procedures that can't be done elsewhere. "Is it possible that New Orleans is treating AIDS patients, which might be a little more expensive?" asks state Sen. John Alario, D-Westwego. "This ought not be a political decision." Cassidy claims the lopsided funding schedule forces uninsured patients in other parts of the state to wait on treatments or to travel to New Orleans. He also says that money for uninsured patients should follow them to wherever they receive care, rather than allowing the LSU Health Care Services Division to send Medicaid money to facilities first. The legislation doesn't impact north or central Louisiana, but it would force LSU to partner with the Department of Health and Hospitals to create a new funding formula by Nov. 1, 2009. If the bill passes, the final LSU/DHH plan would still need approval from the House and Senate health committees next year. From there, it would be implemented over a five-year period beginning in 2010. — Alford

Reassessing Betty Jefferson
The sweeping federal indictment of Assessor Betty Jefferson, 70, her brother, Mose Jefferson, 66, and her daughter, Angela Coleman, 53, accuses the trio of stealing public housing and education funds — starting before she was first elected to the office more than a decade ago. The 31-count indictment charges the three with funneling more than $680,000 in federal housing and education monies directed to charitable nonprofits under their control, beginning prior to Jan. 1, 1998. Betty Jefferson won the Feb. 7, 1998, election for assessor in the Fourth Municipal District (Wards 10 and 11, including the Irish Channel). She then won consecutive four-year terms with the help of her family, including U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson, who faces separate felony charges in Virginia. After Hurricane Katrina, she defeated Chase Jones in the May 2006 runoff by a margin of 56-44 percent. The assessor now faces spending the rest of her life in prison for, among other alleged crimes, federal income tax invasion from 2001 to 2004. — Johnson

Campaign Cupboard Bare
The Jefferson family is spending a lot of time in court these days. Next week, Assessor Betty Jefferson, her brother Mose Jefferson and her daughter Angela Coleman are scheduled to be arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Louis Moore at 9 a.m. Friday (June 20) in connection with their public corruption indictment last week by a federal grand jury. It was unclear at press time whether Betty Jefferson can use any of her campaign funds to defend herself against the federal charges. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten demurred when asked if she had abused her office for personal gain. However, it is clear that her campaign "cupboard" is almost bare. Jefferson reported $2,356 in funds at the beginning of 2008 after little activity last year — other than a $500 contribution to the failed Senate campaign of her niece, former state Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock. Bullock has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Betty Jefferson's campaign reports were filed by Angela Coleman, who served as her mother's campaign treasurer. Six additional but unnamed Jefferson family members were mentioned in connection with various schemes in the federal indictment. Letten says those names may become public if the case goes to trial. — Johnson

Summer Reading for Feds
To build their epic corruption case against Orleans Parish Tax Assessor Betty Jefferson, federal prosecutors say they combed through reports filed by charitable nonprofit organizations with the Legislative Auditor's Office. In fact, a state audit of Care Unlimited, the nonprofit allegedly controlled and "defrauded" by the Jeffersons, preceded the government's 31-count indictment. "We always read them with great relish, and they are always a big help to us," U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said of the Legislative Auditor's reports, which are posted online at www.lla.state.la.us. — Johnson

20,000 New Voters
"We're burning midnight oil," says Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Sandra Wilson. Voting officials are trying to process applications for 20,000 new voters by Wednesday (June 18), the last day to register to vote for the Orleans Parish School Board tax renewal referendum on July 19. The new voters are the result of presidential election-year voting drives by two community activist groups, ACORN and Voting Is Power, Wilson says. Most of the new voters are ages 18 to 34, she says. Early voting for the School Board tax renewal referendum begins July 5 and ends July 12. The School Board is paying for the election. Voters who still reside outside Orleans Parish (other than those in the military or overseas) may request mail-in ballots for the election until July 15. — Johnson

'Scenic' Bayou Manchac
Bayou Manchac divides East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes today, but it once formed the upriver boundary of the Isle of Orleans. Now, state Rep. Franklin J. Foil, R-Baton Rouge, has passed a resolution seeking to add Bayou Manchac to the Louisiana Historic and Scenic Rivers system. The bayou was once called d'Iberville River, after the first Western explorer to have navigated it. Iberville, who made his way up the Mississippi and discovered what would later become Baton Rouge, sought a quick way back to his ships in the Gulf of Mexico. The chief of the Bayougoula Indians showed him a shortcut. "Bayou Manchac was once considered one of the most important waterways in the American southeast and was a vital link from the Mississippi River to the Amite River and onto the Gulf," Foil writes in his resolution. The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries now has a year to complete a study, hold a public hearing and present its findings. If added to the list, the river could benefit from channels of money for cultural events, tourism, rehabilitation and possibly economic development. A management plan with regulations for land and water uses, as well as ownership guidelines, would also be drafted. — Alford

Montana on the Bayou
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, whose state was the last to vote for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Sen. Barack Obama in this year's epic primary season, will address an annual banquet of the Louisiana Democratic Party next week. "Mr. Schweitzer is a Democratic governor in a very red state," said one party source. Schweitzer has also been mentioned as a possible running mate for Obama. Many of Louisiana's most powerful elected Democrats are expected to attend, including U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu; Congressmen Don Cazayoux, Bill Jefferson and Charlie Melancon; Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu; state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell; state Senate President Joel Chaisson and House Speaker Pro Tem Karen Carter Peterson. The 23rd annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner also will honor party members elected as Clerks of Court, including two in New Orleans — Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell and Clerk of Civil District Court Dale Atkins. The event begins at 7 p.m. Saturday (June 21) at the Hilton Capitol Center Riverside in Baton Rouge. Tickets cost $150. For more information, call (225) 336-4155. — Johnson

Reeling in Old Anglers
Hoping to lure former anglers back into the ranks of recreational fishing license holders, the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has launched an aggressive direct mail campaign targeting 70,000 lapsed anglers across the state. By definition, lapsed anglers are those who have purchased a fishing license in previous years but do not currently hold one. Nationwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that only 15 percent of anglers renew their licenses annually for five years. In a 2004 survey of Louisiana anglers, 43 percent bought a recreational fishing license only once in a three-year period. In the 2006-07 fiscal year, 428,003 residents bought basic fishing licenses, down from nearly 593,000 in 1995-96. "Our state has countless fishing opportunities ranging from freshwater to saltwater, and it is our agency's duty to stay connected to the angler," says Ashley Wethey, LDWF spokesperson. "We see this new program as a way of connecting to the lapsed angler, increasing license sales and inviting new anglers to the sport of fishing." The direct mail marketing program will include a free "I'd Rather Be Fishing in Louisiana" bumper sticker to those who respond before July 1. Those who ignore the initial mailing will receive another postcard in mid-July. — Alford

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