Workers rally for Medicaid funding extension

Health care workers rallied at an Augusta nursing home Tuesday to call on Congress to pass an extension of increased Medicaid funding, which many nursing home patients rely on.

Georgia already had counted on $375 million of that extra Medicaid funding in its budget for this fiscal year, so state agencies such as the Medical College of Georgia are facing a 4 percent withholding of funds and being asked to make contingency plans for cuts twice that big.

A spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue said that prospects appear uncertain for the Medicaid extension to pass and that he is trying not to stick the next governor with an unwelcome present come January.

Workers at UniHealth Post-acute Care of Augusta Hills braved the heat in the parking lot to rally for a six-month extension of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage increased funding for Medicaid, which is set to expire in December, halfway through most states' fiscal years.

"Threats to the Medicaid program don't affect us; they affect the folks inside of our buildings," said Neil Pruitt, the chairman and CEO of UHS-Pruitt Corp., which owns the Augusta facility and 42 others in Georgia. That could have a big impact on people in an industry that is one of the few in the country producing new jobs, he said.

"We created over 50,000 new jobs in America last year. And we improved quality at the same time," Pruitt said. "So if we take away those jobs, unfortunately quality care is going to suffer."

It could have a direct impact on people such as Zenobia Andrews, a nurse at UniHealth Post Acute-care-Old Capitol in Louisville, Ga.

"When funding cuts take place, staff is usually the first to feel the impact and our jobs become more and more difficult to do on a daily basis," she said.

It is a concern for Tanja Battle, whose mother has been in Augusta Hills since February 2007.

"It could have an impact because we do receive those funds," she said. "Quite frankly, I don't know what we would do had we not had them this whole time."

About 30 states had counted on the extension when it appeared likely to pass, which doesn't seem to be the case now, said Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley.

"There's a lot of talk about deficits and spending, and there just really doesn't appear like there is going to be a lot of support for an additional stimulus," he said. "And maybe there will be, we just couldn't continue to count on it."

In addition to the 4 percent cut, potentially about $5.8 million, MCG officials are working on contingency plans for cuts of as much as 8 percent that are due to the University System of Georgia on Monday, said William R. Bowes, the senior vice president for finance and administration. What that would mean in terms of what is actually cut is unclear, he said.

"There are a lot of open questions right now with regard to whether there will be some systemwide initiatives that will assist institutions or questions about furloughs, whether that is on the table again or not," Bowes said. "We just don't know yet."

The point is to take action now so that the next governor isn't faced with having to cut that $375 million, Brantley said.

"(Perdue) frankly just doesn't feel like it is right to do that to the next governor," he said.

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