BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration scrapped plans Wednesday to shutter the state's Medicaid hospice program in February, meaning the state will continue to provide end-of-life care to people on their death beds who can't afford private insurance.
Jindal's health secretary Bruce Greenstein made the announcement as hospice program supporters were gathering for a candlelight vigil on the state capitol steps to protest the cut. Greenstein said his department will use grant funding to cover the hospice costs this year.
Cheers went up across the small crowd of people gathered in what they expected to be a somber vigil. Instead, they celebrated.
"I got goose bumps," certified grief counselor and nurse Sue deRada said as she heard the program for the terminally ill would be spared.
"End of life care is just so vital for everybody. It's sacred. It's one of the most sacred times in people's life next to being born. Why would we abandon people at such a critical time?" she said.
The cut would have made Louisiana one of only two states that don't pay for hospice care through its Medicaid program, and the plan faced strong resistance from state senators, who were seeking ways to avoid shuttering hospice.
Jindal made a series of budget reductions in mid-December to help close a nearly $166 million deficit in the current fiscal year that ends June 30. As part of those cuts, the Department of Health and Hospitals planned to close hospice to new adult recipients on Feb. 1, a move that had been estimated to save about $1.1 million in state funding this year.
Oklahoma is currently the only state that doesn't offer hospice care to adults through Medicaid, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Jindal administration had said when cuts are required to the Medicaid program, only a few optional benefits can be reduced without violating requirements for the state's participation in the program it runs with the federal government. Hospice is an optional program the health department said has been available since 2002.
More than 5,800 people received hospice services through Louisiana's Medicaid program in the last budget year, according to the health department. Many of those, however, were eligible to receive the end-of-life care through Medicare. About 1,400 received the services in their homes and wouldn't have been eligible through Medicare.