Eye On Boise

CAT fund health bills soaring...

Roger Christensen, chairman of the state's Catastrophic Health Care Fund board, tells the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee about the fund's soaring bills to cover health crises for Idahoans who have nowhere else to turn, and aren't eligible for Medicaid or other assistance programs. (Betsy Russell)
Roger Christensen, chairman of the state's Catastrophic Health Care Fund board, tells the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee about the fund's soaring bills to cover health crises for Idahoans who have nowhere else to turn, and aren't eligible for Medicaid or other assistance programs. (Betsy Russell)

Lawmakers are struggling with runaway costs in the state's Catastrophic Health Care Fund, thanks to the plunging economy that's thrown more Idahoans on the mercy of their county indigent programs when they have a health crisis. Counties pay up to $11,000 per case, and then the state picks up the rest, but costs have been ballooning. (Those who get the benefits also get liens slapped on their homes and all assets to try to recover the costs.) Last year, legislation was enacted to reform the program, raise the counties' deductible from $10,000 to $11,000, and bring in claims review and utilization management to try to bring the costs under control. But caseloads have continued to skyrocket, driving up costs even as those new savings programs are in the process of being implemented. "Our numbers continue to change, and I'm almost fearful our numbers are somewhat optimistic still," Roger Christensen, CAT fund board chairman, told JFAC today.

In fiscal year 2011, Christensen expects costs for cases to hit $35.4 million, but with the savings, he's proposing a budget of $30 million. He's also requested a supplemental appropriation of $8 million, but Gov. Butch Otter has recommended just $4 million; however, so many Idahoans are asking for help that even the $8 million now appears not to be enough. By law, the state has to pay the bills for eligible people, Christensen said - if it doesn't have the money, its only option is to roll the debt into the next year.

Former state GOP Chairman Blake Hall has been the one giving the CAT fund report to JFAC for years, as his Idaho Falls law firm had the management contract for the program. Last year, Hall was paid $213,000 to run the program in fiscal year 2009. But Christensen said "Times and conditions have changed." The board has voted not to renew Hall's contract, though it's continuing now on a month-to-month basis until a new contract is in place in February. That contract, which still is being finalized, calls for the board itself to run the program, with the Idaho Association of Counties providing interim management and the Idaho Attorney General providing legal services. Estimated costs for next year: $125,000 to $130,000.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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