Blake Hall, administrator of the state Catastrophic Fund, which helps counties cover medical costs for indigents by covering the bills beyond $10,000 per case, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning that the fund is $2.5 million short for the rest of this fiscal year, and $10 million short for next year’s anticipated costs under the governor’s budget recommendation. Gov. Butch Otter has discussed raising counties’ deductibles from $10,000 to $15,000 or making other changes to the program, but counties are short of funds, too. “If we did this, then that additional obligation on the counties would have to come out of the property tax, right?” asked Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover. Hall and several county commissioners provided uncertain answers; that’s one of the few funding sources counties have, but their property tax budget growth is capped at 3 percent a year.
No legislation has yet been presented to change the system, but county officials and others have been meeting with Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. After his budget hearing, Hall said, “I guess the Legislature will have to decide what they are going to do.” He has a supplemental budget request pending for the missing $2.5 million for this year; if unpaid bills roll in, they’d just be rolled over to the next fiscal year, he said. “I think we’re facing the same problem that everybody in the state’s facing, and that’s there appear to be some real difficult decisions for the Legislature to make, with revenues lagging behind needs,” Hall said.