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Politics

Senate Plans Deep Cuts in HHS

March 21, 2011 - 7:00pm

A new Senate budget proposal would cut at least $1 billion from health and human services programs, slamming hospitals, mental-health treatment and care for thousands of people with debilitating illnesses.

The proposal, released Monday by Senate health-budget chief Joe Negron, includes 10 percent Medicaid rate cuts for hospitals and 5 percent cuts for nursing homes.

Also, it would eliminate funding for adults who need outpatient mental-health and substance-abuse services. It would also stop paying hospital and drug bills in the Medically Needy program, which cares for people who have severe medical conditions but don't qualify for Medicaid.

Negron, a Stuart Republican who is chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said the proposal still calls for spending about $28 billion next year --- even with the cuts. That comes at a time when the state is struggling with a gaping budget shortfall.

He said the proposal prioritizes spending. As an example, the plan would continue paying for substance-abuse treatment for teens --- which he said was a higher priority than treatment for adults.

"We can only spend the money we have,'' Negron said. "This budget reflects our considered judgment on priorities. I acknowledge that we had to make difficult choices. But $28 billion is a significant appropriation for health and human services for 19 million Floridians.''

But Karen Koch, vice president of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health, said the cuts in mental-health would have "pretty devastating" effects.

The budget proposal would continue paying for so-called "crisis beds" needed for emergency inpatient treatment.

"We may have crisis beds, but (with the outpatient cuts), we have no place to discharge them after the crisis,'' Koch said.

The proposal is just the first of several steps in passing a health and human services spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The House Health Care Appropriations Committee on Tuesday will release its initial proposal, which is expected to include major differences on issues such as Medically Needy funding.

Rep. Matt Hudson, a Naples Republican who is chairman of the House panel, said Monday that people in the Medically Needy program have complex medical problems. Under the Senate proposal, the state would only continue paying for physician services for those patients.

Hudson and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, are concerned that hospitals would get stuck with providing uncompensated care to the patients if the state stops paying for it.

"One way or another, the people are still going to get seen,'' Hudson said.

Also, Hudson indicated that the House budget proposal will not include deep cuts to mental-health and substance-abuse programs.

Negron said the Senate proposal would cut about $1 billion in state general-revenue funding for health and human services. But the actual amount of cuts likely is hundreds of millions of dollars more because the state also would lose federal matching money for many of the cuts. Senate staff members were working on a bottom-line number Monday, but Negron said the total probably would be roughly $1.5 billion.

The biggest chunk of cuts, about $438 million, would hit Medicaid rates for hospital care.

Nursing homes, meanwhile, would take $144 million in Medicaid cuts. Those totals include state and federal money.

But the Senate proposal includes dozens of smaller budget cuts. They range from a $14 million reduction in fees for pharmacists who dispense Medicaid prescriptions to chopping $4.8 million in funding for the Florida Area Health Education Centers.

Those so-called AHECs are affiliated with medical schools and are involved in tobacco cessation and other community-health programs across the state.


Health News Florida is a partner of News Service of Florida

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