Originally created 09/26/03

Advocates pitch to spare Medicaid programs from budget ax



ATLANTA -- Health care providers and advocates took turns begging a legislative committee Thursday to spare Medicaid from deep funding cuts needed in next year's state budget.

Some warned that low-income patients would forego treatment if their benefits are cut or their co-payments increased, eventually costing the state more over time. Others warned that needless deaths will occur if services are cut.

The testimony was offered to a subcommittee of the Budgetary Responsibility Oversight Committee, which includes key lawmakers from both chambers and focuses on budget policy issues.

But Rep. Tom Buck, D-Columbus, who chairs the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, said cuts in the program will be inevitable when lawmakers convene next year.

"There's no doubt about it," he said. "I think it's going to be bloody. I think it's going to be worse than last session."

The state is slowly emerging from a two-year economic drought that forced deep spending cuts during the last legislative session and left the reserves nearly exhausted.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has directed agencies to recommend further cuts of 2.5 percent to current spending and of 5 percent for next year.

Don Snell, the president and chief executive officer of MCG Health Systems of Augusta, told the panel the only long-term solution is to manage individual cases better and place a sharper emphasis on prevention and health maintenance.

The only short-term fixes would result in reduced services or increased co-payments, and that could leave many without the treatment they needed, he suggested.

Spokesmen for several dialysis treatment companies warned that cuts in Medicaid support for those with kidney failure would place lives needlessly in jeopardy.

Denise Holloway, the mother of developmentally disabled adult twins, told lawmakers they can't know the struggles many Medicaid-dependent families face unless they have stood in their shoes.

"It's like caring for a toddler in an adult's body," she said, later warning the lawmakers that cutting spending while keeping a quality Medicaid program "cannot be done without hurting those who can't speak for themselves."

The Department of Community Health, which operates Medicaid in Georgia, is due to decide next month how to implement the governor's spending reduction order.

The legislative committee will meet again next month.