HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Thursday said the department will allocate $195 million in a one-time round of grants to Gulf Coast health services, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. About $100 million of the grant money will go to clinics that provide primary care to low-income and uninsured residents in an effort to reduce dependency on emergency departments and ensure residents receive basic care. Louisiana also will receive $35 million to recruit medical staff including physicians, nurses, dentists and pharmacists, and $26 million will go toward helping mental health centers and hospitals offset the rising cost of wages.
In addition, Alabama and Mississippi will receive a combined $34 million. Providers must apply — mainly through the Partnership for Access to Healthcare, which has helped many neighborhood clinics secure grants after Hurricane Katrina struck — to receive any of the funds. The New Orleans Health Department was the only agency that was specifically designated to receive $4 million to expand primary care services to underserved areas.
Leavitt emphasized that grants should be considered “as emergency funding,” adding, “This needs to be used as a bridge to a permanent solution” (Moran, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 5/25). Leavitt has said he supports a plan that would redirect funds used for Louisiana’s Charity Hospital system to provide residents with annual incomes less than 200% of the federal poverty level with an insurance voucher. Residents would be able to use the voucher to receive care from the provider of their choice