Bobby Jindal to Poor Louisianans: Drop Dead

Last week, I wrote on how Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was transforming his state’s tax system, from a mixed collection of corporate, income and sales taxes, to one where corporate and income taxes have been eliminated, and sales taxes are hiked to make up for lost revenue. In other words, Jindal wants to turn Louisiana’s marginally progressive tax structure into a fully regressive one, which places its largest tax burden on its most vulnerable citizens.

If Jindal were also proposing a large expansion of state services, this would make sense. Overall, the progressivity of the tax burden is less important than the level of redistribution. A state with regressive taxes but robust public benefits is better for lower-income people than one with progressive taxes but few benefits.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t describe Jindal’s Louisiana. To wit, he has authorized elimination of the state’s hospice program for Medicaid recipients. According to a local New Orleans news station, Louisiana residents over the age of 21 will stop receiving hospice benefits at the end of the month. As of February, low-income Louisianans with terminal illnesses and disabilities will lose access to long-term home and medical care.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals defends this as a cost-saving measure: Over the next two years, Louisiana will save $8.3 million by ending state-funded hospice care. But that’s a paltry sum compared to the state’s $900 million deficit. And in the same way that raising Medicare eligibility increases costs by moving seniors into more expensive private insurance plans, these cuts will, in the end, place a greater burden on the state, as low-income Louisianans turn to nearby hospitals and ICUs, shifting the burden to localities.

In isolation, it’s a disaster of a plan. When coupled with existing cuts to education and a large tax increase on the bottom 80 percent of Louisiana residents, it’s a catastrophe. Indeed, Jindal seems devoted to engineering a Louisiana that works little for its most vulnerable citizens, and does as much as possible to satisfy the wants of wealthy, entrenched interests.