ATLANTA -- Saving the trickiest problems for last, legislative budget writers wrapped up three days of hearings on state spending needs learning about looming gaps in healthcare resources.
The House and Senate appropriations committees met jointly this week to get broad overviews of the money demands of the state’s largest agencies while the rest of the General Assembly was in recess. Monday, the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittees will begin weeks of in-depth hearings to pore over the details of what Gov. Nathan Deal has recommended spending in each area.
Deal asked every agency to cut 2 percent of its expenditures next year, but he’s also calling on legislators to make big boosts in health care. For the Department of Community Health, he wants $437 million added next year and for the balance of the current fiscal year to cover rising health costs and the growing enrollment in the insurance plans for state workers, teachers and the poor. That includes enrolling the children of 21,000 state employees in the PeachCare for Kids insurance plan for children from low-income families.
Rep. Matt Dollar, R-Marietta, asked Community Health Commissioner David Cook about shaving costs by investigating bogus claims in the program for the poor, Medicaid.
“There is fraud and abuse out there,” Cook said, adding that the department recently recovered $46 million and won nine convictions from 54 people charged with Medicaid fraud.
“These are the bad guys. We need to ferret that out but not make it too onerous for the people who are providing legitimate services,” he said.
More troubling is the ballooning costs in the coming decade due to federal health reform requirements, said Rep. Mickey Channell, R-Greensboro.
He said the federal law will add 700,000 people to the state’s Medicaid roles, a 50 percent increase.
“Not to mention where are we going to get the doctors to treat them, but where are we going to get the money?” he asked.
Cook agreed the state’s seven-year cost could be $2.5 billion and then double over the following five years as federal funding for the expansion declines.
“It’s a huge unknown,” he said.
Another budget time bomb is the $62 billion in unfunded medical coverage for state retirees over the next 30 years, Cook said.
Also coming before lawmakers Thursday were the heads of the Department of Human Services, seeking $15 million and the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities requesting $30 million.