When the Department of Health and Hospitals released its “Public-Private Partnership” financial report on nine state hospitals last month, it was pretty much assumed that the state media would accept the glowing report at face value and trumpet the Jindal administration’s brilliance in the privatization plan.
To no one’s surprise, Jindal cheerleader Scott McKay, curiously writing under the pseudonym “MacAoidh,” which he explained was the Gaelic spelling of his name, jumped out in front of the parade. Close behind were Lauren Guillot of the LSU Reveille and Chris LeBlanc of the Thibodaux Daily Comet.
The latest to chime in is Quin Hillyer, an unsuccessful Alabama-congressional-candidate (he finished fourth in the Republican primary)-turned-columnist for the Baton Rouge Advocate who somehow purports to be an expert on Louisiana politics but who continues to live in Mobile.
The DHH report attempted to show that Jindal’s privatization plan—a plan, by the way, that has yet to be approved by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services(CMS)—has cost the state $51.8 million less than expected during the fiscal year ended June 30.
But those numbers are disingenuous at best.
The first column of the DHH spreadsheet contains the amounts budgeted for each of the nine hospitals for the fiscal year that ended on June 30.
That’s simple enough to comprehend but the second column is the key. That column lists the amounts actually spent as of June 30 while the third column reports the difference between the amounts appropriated and the amounts spent. That’s where DHH came up with the aggregate savings of $51.8 million.
But what the report neglects to say is that the books on those fiscal year 2013-2014 expenditures will not be closed until later this month, so any reported costs (Column 2) will necessarily increase, thereby negatively impacting Column 3. (Column 4 simply gives the appropriations for each hospital for the current (2014-2015) fiscal year.)
By way of explanation, “Public Claims” is the traditional Medicaid payments the state made to the public hospitals. “Public UCC” is the uncompensated care, or DSH payments the state made to the LSU hospitals. “Private Claims” are the Medicaid payments made to the new private hospital partners. These are the same payments as the “Public UCC” payments, only larger and fueled by the lease payments used by the state for match, thereby cutting state funds and giving the illusion of shrinking government.
“Private UPL” stands for “upper payment limit,” which is a supplemental Medicaid payment which the state must match—which is now done from the lease payments that CMS has yet to approve. “Private UCC” is DSH payments the state is also allowed to make to private hospitals.
It is not unusual for individual hospitals to vary from their original budgets because they have the flexibility to move money around, using savings in one area to cover expenditures in others. The bottom line is what is significant.
Even with that Enron-esque method of bookkeeping, several hospitals have already overspent their budgets even before the final numbers are in, the report shows. Those include Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge ($12.2 million over budget), Interim LSU Hospital in New Orleans ($5.9 million), University Medical Center in Lafayette ($8.8 million) and W.O. Moss in Lake Charles ($1.2 million).
Others that were close to spending all of their appropriations included Chabert Medical Center in Houma and E.A. Conway in Monroe.
The total appropriations for all nine hospitals for the 2013-2014 fiscal year is $1.111 billion against $1.058 billion spent, a difference of $51.8 million, according to the report which again, does not reflect the final numbers.
The 2014-2015 appropriation for the nine facilities is $1.15 billion which means if nothing changes in expenditures for the current budget (a highly unlikely, almost impossible scenario), the state will still spend $91.5 million more on the hospitals in 2014-2015 than in the previous fiscal year.
And should the final numbers for 2013-2014 show that the hospitals spent the entire $1.111 billion appropriated, the state still will spend $39.7 million more this year than last.
Somehow, that just doesn’t support the $51.8 million “savings.”
Moreover, the report conveniently does not provide us with the means of finance so we have no concept of how much is state funding and how much is federal. No matter; the cold hard facts are that the partnerships between the state and private hospitals were supposed to save money and they clearly have not.
The 2013-2014 fiscal year was a hybrid between the old public model and the new private model in which the private hospitals lease the state hospitals and use those lease payments for matching funds that the state puts up to receive federal dollars to make “private” payments.
It is that arrangement that CMS has yet to approve because they involve largely inflated lease payments. While the arrangement may be counterintuitive, the private hospitals are more than happy to agree to the inflated lease payments because the state plans to use those payments as match and promptly draw down big federal matching dollars to then pay back to the private hospitals—if, that is, CMS approval is forthcoming.
None of this matters to Hillyer and McKay, though. Eager to thumb their noses at the skeptics and while taking a deliberate shot at “liberal” gubernatorial candidate State Rep. John Bel Edwards, Hillyer called the hospital privatization plan “good medicine,” adding that early critics “should be pulling out the salt and pepper” in preparation to “eat their earlier words.”
But even more egregious on Hillyer’s part, he claims (erroneously, it should be noted) that CMS “has not sent an official ‘disallowance’ notice” on the advance lease payments when in fact those have already been disallowed outright as being illegal. That, says Edwards, will likely result in future clawbacks of $507 million that the state will owe Medicaid.
He also quoted DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert as saying negotiations with CMS have put the feds “in a position where, fairly shortly, they can approve our State Plan Amendments.”
Perhaps so, but we’ve heard that song and dance before so we’re going to withhold judgment on that optimistic report.
At least McKay (or MacAoidh if you will) had the good sense not to accept the DHH spreadsheet as the final numbers and at acknowledged a “fuller accounting” would be forthcoming. “And we’ll know next year, after the first full year of the implementation of Jindal’s idea to privatize the charity hospitals, exactly how much money is saved,” he added, making an apparent assumption there would be a savings despite the increased budget for the current fiscal year. http://thehayride.com/2014/07/surprise-the-privatized-charity-hospitals-come-in-52-million-under-budget/
But then McKay, as is his wont, became a bit melodramatic by pointing out observers “might be at a loss to summon up memories of dead bodies due to neglect as a result of the privatization. If there are oodles of corpses littering the roadsides outside of hospitals throughout Louisiana for lack of admittance, they’ve gone strangely unreported.”
We honestly don’t know where he came up with that wild scenario that he somehow implies was the claim of privatization opponents. “Nobody suffered from the leases of those hospitals,” he continued. “And the state is going to save a lot of money as a result, while likely delivering better services to the public.”
That, of course, remains to be seen. If he is right, he’s right. But it’s difficult to arrive at that conclusion when you look at the numbers on the DHH spreadsheet.
If, that is, you bothered to study the numbers closely which some obviously did not—just as the administration counted on.
(With appreciation to two regular readers who helped us interpret the numbers and their meaning.)