Reports: Budget cuts could severely impact health dept.

The Louisiana Department of Health says 17 health units in 16 mostly rural parishes that serve the poor, disabled and elderly could be shuttered if the state House Republican leader’s plan to levy $147 million in cuts while foregoing use of the state’s rainy day fund is enacted.

Gannett Louisiana’s Greg Hilburn reports that Department of Health spokesman Bob Johannessen says the closures are but one scenario for dealing with Alexandria Republican Rep. Lance Harris’ proposal to close a $304 million deficit in the current fiscal year budget. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed dipping into the state’s rainy day fund and dealing with the deficit in a February special session. The GOP-controlled House has so far balked at the idea of tapping into the rainy day fund and lawmakers have been resistant to a special session.

The health unit closures would overwhelmingly fall in poor, rural parishes in Louisiana. Johannessen told the Associated Press that a $147 million cut in state funding would actually represent a broader $423 million cut due to the loss of federal matching funds.

More from AP:

The health department says cuts proposed by the leader of Louisiana’s House Republicans could devastate programs for the poor and uninsured, the mentally ill and people with disabilities.

Rep. Lance Harris offered his plan Thursday for closing Louisiana’s $304 million budget deficit, which would levy $147 million in cuts on the Department of Health.

Health Department spokesman Bob Johannessen said the cuts would multiply with the loss of federal matching dollars to $423 million.

With that reduction, Johannessen says the agency would have to stop paying the privatized LSU hospitals and clinics that care for the poor. He says dollars would be slashed for programs that help the elderly and disabled stay out of nursing homes.

Harris says the cuts could be spread among salaries, supplies, travel and other costs.

Read Hilburn’s report here.