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More cuts needed in Medicaid budget

BOISE – Idaho’s Medicaid program that serves some 150,000 poor children must come up with more than $47.2 million in savings to meet its reduced fiscal year 2011 budget.

“It’s ugly, but you just can’t spend what you don’t have, and that’s the reality of the situation,” said state Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle. She noted that the proposed budget is a 3.5 percent cut in state general funds – less than the 7 percent or more being cut from the rest of state government. “We’re trying our best to make sure that people who need these services get these services,” she said.

The budget plan, approved on a 16-2 vote in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Thursday, calls for $23 million or more in bills from this year to be carried into next year; relies on savings from hospital assessment legislation that hasn’t yet passed; and still anticipates that additional reductions will have to be made by the governor and department during the year.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s Medicaid rolls have swelled 10 percent since July, to 215,000 people.

State Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, a physician who proposed the plan, said, “We have to be creative in trying to figure out how we can maintain as many services as we can – the most essential services – and yet reduce the services to the point we can actually afford it.”

Medicaid is the joint state-federal health insurance program that covers the poor and disabled. The budget, which still needs House and Senate approval plus the governor’s signature to become law, totals $1.55 billion, including a $298 million state general fund share.

On a party-line vote with all four of the panel’s Democrats objecting, the budget committee on Thursday also set a budget for public health services that zero-funds the adult cystic fibrosis program, which currently serves 44 Idahoans with the disease, five of whom have no other health coverage. The department had requested $322,500 for the program, and Otter had recommended $150,000. “This is one of the casualties; this is the economy that we find ourselves in,” said Wood. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s where we find ourselves.”

Broadsword suggested the department might be able to keep the cystic fibrosis program alive by finding money elsewhere, but department spokesman Tom Shanahan said, “There’s just no more to squeeze from that budget.”