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House Examines Response To Health Care Needs Of New Orleans Residents After Hurricane

Armen Hareyan's picture

Lawmakers at a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on Wednesday examined the state of the New Orleans health care system since Hurricane Katrina, CQ HealthBeat reports.

Atthe hearing, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said that the New Orleanshealth care system since the hurricane remains "fragmented andoverwhelmed" with "critical shortages" of physicians and nurses,closures of physician practices and financial problems for hospitals.He added that "not a shovel of dirt has been lifted" to rebuild twomajor hospitals in New Orleans after the hurricane.

Dingell also praised HHS for "free[ing] up" $100 million in funds for primary care services in New Orleans, CQ HealthBeatreports. Dingell said, "These much-needed funds will soon flow toclinics in the greater New Orleans area that provide primary andpreventive care -- such as vaccinations, prenatal checkups and basicfirst aid -- to poor and uninsured patients."

According tosubcommittee Chair Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), HHS has failed to help withgraduate medical education programs in New Orleans that train a largepercentage of health care professionals in the city. He said that,because of the "cumbersome" Medicare reimbursement system for hospitalsthat train medical residents, medical schools "have had to enter intotortuous and expensive negotiations so that residents may continuetheir training."


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At the hearing, NewOrleans Mayor Ray Nagin said that, because of the number of hospitalsin the city that closed after the hurricane, "many specialty carephysicians -- such as oncologists, hematologists, orthopedists andcardiologists -- have left the region." Nagin said that, althoughuninsured New Orleans residents who have cancer or other illnesses andrequire surgery or other specialty care can receive emergency care,they "will need to travel out of the area to another public hospitalfacility for chemotherapy, radiation or other life-savinginterventions." He added, "If they have no money for transportation orlodging, they will not be able to get treatment" (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 8/2).

Naginalso cited mental health care and substance abuse treatment as some ofthe most important health care needs for New Orleans (Shields, Baton Rouge Advocate,8/2). He said, "I implore. I ask. I beg this committee to really dosomething to help us" because New Orleans is "suffering from financialmalnutrition" from the federal government (Alpert, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 8/2).

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) asked witnesses why health funds for New Orleans have gone unspent (CQ HealthBeat,8/2). He said that he has received criticism from constituents forsupporting allocations to Louisiana, which he would have an easier timedefending if local authorities used the money more quickly (New OrleansTimes-Picayune, 8/2).

Fred Cerise, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said, "We have mental health dollars in the city that will go unspent because we lack health care workers" (CQ HealthBeat, 8/2).

Other Testimony

A number of officials for hospitals in New Orleans also testified atthe hearing. According to Mark Peters, CEO of East Jefferson Hospital,five major hospitals in New Orleans will lose a combined $135 millionin 2007 and $405 million in 2009 (Baton Rouge Advocate, 8/2). In addition, Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation and director of the foundation's Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, presented a survey on health care coverage and access in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 8/2).

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