Budget board passes bailout for Medicaid

COLUMBIA --- A $100 million bailout of the state's Medicaid program approved Tuesday will keep health care on track for the state's elderly, poor and disabled at least through March.

The state Department of Health and Human Services told the state Budget and Control Board that it had been able to shave only $3 million from a looming $228 million deficit projection. Agency director Anthony Keck told the board that unless the state agreed to cover the shortfall, Medicaid provider payments would stop by the end of March.

Gov. Nikki Haley asked the five member board, which she leads, to approve a $225 million bailout. But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman insisted that the agency only get $100 million immediately, telling Keck to look for other ways to cut the deficit.

Keck, on the job for less than two weeks, hasn't been able to find deep reductions so far. It's shut off payments for adult dental, vision and podiatry care as well smaller budgetary items, including how often diabetics can get new shoes, accessories for wheel chairs like umbrella holders and some prescription drugs.

The $100 million will allow the state to cover Medicaid payments through April, Keck said. But finding $125 million in cuts is no easier than finding $228 million, he notes.

"I don't think it's any easier, but the board clearly wants to be on top of it and, of course, they recognize that it's a very big deficit," Keck said.

And the problem balloons in the upcoming budget year to $663 million. It's the bulk of the $854 million shortfall in state spending that budget writers are dealing with as they write the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Meanwhile, the financial oversight board took no action on a deficit at the state Department of Corrections. The prisons agency told the board that it had trimmed a $7.5 million deficit to $4.8 million. The board gave the agency a month to deal with the remaining shortfall.

On Monday, the Department of Social Services said it had erased a $28.8 million deficit. All but $12 million of that disappeared as the agency recalculated the effect of budget cuts made last year.

That remaining deficit was covered with $5 million in spending cuts in a child welfare program. And the agency sliced $7 million from welfare payments, sending average monthly checks for a parent with two children from $270 to $216 monthly.


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