BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration scrapped plans Wednesday to shutter Louisiana'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.
Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein announced the reversal 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 federal grant funding to continue the services for the poor and terminally ill.
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 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?" said deRada, who works for a hospice service in St. Tammany Parish, 40 miles north of New Orleans.
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 to new adult recipients on Feb. 1.
Sen. Fred Mills, vice chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, walked into the vigil crowd to deliver the news that the Jindal administration had backed away from plans to close the program.
"The good Lord took care of us today, so we got a fix," Mills, R-Breaux Bridge, told Rhonda Johnson, who works for a Baton Rouge-based hospice provider.
Johnson said cutting the program would have been "throwing away poor people."
"The thought of ever eliminating hospice for poor people is just unreal," she said. "This is a huge victory."