The Latest: GOP lawmakers criticize boost in health spending


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) €” The Latest on House hearings on Louisiana’s budget (all times local):

1:30 p.m.

Republican lawmakers on the House budget committee are bristling at the spending increases in the state health department, saying the agency can’t keep growing every year.

Rep. Rick Edmonds, a Baton Rouge Republican, called the growth in health care spending “astonishing.” Rep. Tony Bacala, a Republican from Prairieville, said state spending on the health department exceeds all state sales tax collections.

Health Secretary Rebekah Gee pushed back Wednesday against the criticism. She says her agency has saved the state money this year€” and will again next year — because Louisiana expanded its Medicaid program and took advantage of the expansion’s available federal financing.

But she says the poverty-ridden state has health care needs and the cost of providing such services is rising.

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12:30 p.m.

Louisiana’s social services agency is asking for a sizable jump in next year’s budget, largely to deal with child welfare cases that the department leader says are overwhelming workers.

Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters told the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday without additional funds, “we are not serving children and families well.”

The department has taken repeated cuts since 2009, slashing its budget in half.

Walters said those cuts have hampered agency response to child neglect and child abuse, doubling caseloads and chasing away employees.

The department asked for a $99 million increase in the upcoming 2017-18 budget, a 14 percent increase. Walters says she knows she can’t get such a boost with the state’s dire financial problems, but says it’s her job to describe the problems.

 

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