Louisiana Medicaid Will Keep Covering Hospice For Dying People After All, Jindal Administration Says

ROSEMONT, IL - JUNE 08:  Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal speaks to guests at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CP
ROSEMONT, IL - JUNE 08: Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal speaks to guests at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center on June 8, 2012 in Rosemont, Illinois. CPAC is being hosted by the American Conservative Union. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Good news for poor people in Louisiana who are dying: Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) won't cut off funding for your end-of-life hospice care, his administration announced Wednesday.

Louisiana's Medicaid program was set to cut off coverage of hospice services on Feb. 1 but the Jindal administration's top Medicaid official visited a candlelight vigil protesting the move Wednesday evening with a message: never mind, the Associated Press reported.

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.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals issued a written statement explaining that the state instead would "reform the Medicaid Hospice Program, with a focus on providing services in the community." Pending federal approval, Louisiana would emphasize providing hospice care in patients' homes, rather than nursing homes, and impose stricter requirements for doctors and patients to prove hospice is necessary, for example. Patients in hospice care get treatments to ease the symptoms of their ailments but don't receive therapies intended to cure them.

The AP has the backstory on how Louisiana almost joined Oklahoma as the only states that don't cover hospice care under Medicaid. It started with spending cuts Jindal imposed to address a budget shortfall last month.

Greenstein said when cuts are required to the Medicaid program, only a few optional benefits can be reduced without violating requirements for the state's participation in the program it runs with the federal government. Hospice is an optional program the health department said has been available since 2002.

Baton Rouge's WAFB-TV has video on the Jindal administration's reversal that includes interviews with family members of hospice patients: