Senate seeks oversight over LSU hospital changes

BATON ROUGE (AP) — The Louisiana Senate approved a requirement Tuesday that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration get approval from its budget committee to privatize LSU’s hospitals, but the governor’s office says the measure doesn’t have the force of law and it won’t seek approval.

Without debate, senators approved legislation that says the LSU Board of Supervisors needs the backing of the Senate Finance Committee before turning over the management of the university-run hospitals to private operators.

The resolution by Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, was adopted by senators without objection — and with no real explanation of what its impact would be. Because it was a resolution involving only the Senate, it didn’t need House backing and it doesn’t go to the governor’s desk.

Because it was in a Senate resolution, rather than a bill, the Jindal administration doesn’t intend to comply with asking for Senate Finance Committee approval.

“Concerning the resolution, it does not have the effect of law. Additionally, the attorney general has ruled that the public-private partnerships do not require legislative approval,” Jindal spokesman Sean Lansing said in a statement.

The university-run hospitals provide safety net care for the uninsured and help train most of the state’s medical students. Jindal is seeking to privatize all but one of LSU’s nine hospitals as a way to cut costs. Agreements for most hospitals are under negotiation.

Lawmakers have raised concerns about the arrangements, saying they worried the rapid push for privatization could jeopardize care for the uninsured and damage medical training programs.

Murray modeled his resolution after similar legislation filed several years ago requiring joint House and Senate budget committee approval for a privatization effort that closed LSU’s public hospital in Baton Rouge, Earl K. Long Medical Center, this week and shifted most of its inpatient care to a private hospital.

In response to that legislation, the Jindal administration sought and received budget committee backing for the hospital closure agreement.

LSU hospitals chief Frank Opelka didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to a question about whether he would comply with the Senate resolution.

Hefty savings from the privatizations are assumed in Jindal’s budget proposal for the upcoming 2013-14 fiscal year. But none of the remaining financial arrangements has been completed — or released publicly.

The lease agreements for the New Orleans and Lafayette hospitals are scheduled for approval Wednesday by the LSU Board of Supervisors.

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