Ragas optimistic after HB 1 passes with hospital funding intact  

Published 7:04 am Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Our Lady of the Angels CEO Rene Ragas said he was happy the state’s House of Representatives voted to fully fund rural hospitals and public/private partnership hospitals.

The state is facing massive budget deficit next year, and last week House members were putting together this year’s budget with that shortfall in mind. The hospitals faced cuts but instead lawmakers cut some funding from TOPS, a popular scholarship program.

Ragas said he was thankful that Rep. Malinda White fought hard in the House for local hospital funding.

“We want to thank our representative, Malinda White, for her leadership in the house on the on HB (House Bill) 1 that restores the majority of the funding of Our Lady of the Angels,” he said. “However, we still have the rest of the budgeting process that will have to be finalized by the full House and Senate.”

In short, the hospital’s budget isn’t secure quite yet, but Ragas said the situation is looking better than it did weeks ago.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that the funding will be restored for the most part, but until we have final votes from the House and Senate, then we still need to be diligent and communicate with our legislators and make sure they follow through with the funding levels in House Bill 1,” he said.

Once the Senate approves the bill, any changes will then need to be approved by the House.

However, even if the Senate approves full hospital funding, Ragas said he expects Our Lady of the Angels to take a small hit after Medicaid expands later this year. At present, the state is paying for the care of indigent patients through their public/private funding. Medicaid provides federal dollars to pay for indigent care, but Ragas said the funding will likely not match.

“We are currently renegotiating the terms of our agreement with the state to reflect Medicaid expansion,” Ragas said. “What that means is that there will be some level of decreased funding due to Medicaid expansion.”

Ragas said if the Senate approves the House’s budget as it is, the hospital could see a 10-percent cut in funding.

“In the current funding scenario, if it passed, we’d have to evaluate all our services, but the vast majority would be intact as they are today,” Ragas said.

The CEO said he is already starting some of that service evaluation with leadership from Riverside Medical Center in Franklinton, though he cautioned that the process is in its infancy.

“We are very preliminary with our discussions on how we could work together to further healthcare in Washington Parish, but we need to finalize our state funding first before we move forward with any partnership with Riverside,” he said.

It is still possible that the hospitals, and TOPS, will get fully funded.

While HB 1 takes away $72 million from the scholarship program, lawmakers cannot tackle revenue issues during this session. Revenue will have to be dealt with in a special session, and if new streams of revenue are found, then funding could be restored.

“It is my hope that we can continue to work together during the next special session to explore revenue options that would allow us to fully fund TOPS next year, as well as the life-saving services that the citizens of Louisiana rely on us to protect,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said, shortly after the passage of HB 1.