Legislature shelves Medicaid cuts plan

By: - July 28, 2005 11:19 am

Wilmington StarNews Online
Dual-eligible patients to keep coverage; other trims sought

RALEIGH – Lawmakers have shelved a proposal that would have removed thousands of people from government insurance rolls, but budget negotiators said Wednesday they still will control costs this year in the state’s Medicaid program.

"We wanted to do what we can for the least fortunate," said Sen. Kay Hagan, D-Guilford, but "we need to do what we can in to rein in these costs."

The Senate budget contained a provision that would have saved $53 million this coming year by moving some patients from combined Medicaid and Medicare coverage to Medicare only.

The House spending blueprint didn’t include the plan, and Speaker Jim Black and Gov. Mike Easley vowed not to accept the reduction that would have cut coverage for 65,000 elderly, blind and disabled patients. State officials estimated 8,000 people would have lost their health coverage entirely had the Senate proposal become the law.

Efforts to eliminate the dual coverage were prompted by the federal government’s decision to provide comprehensive drug coverage for Medicare patients beginning in January. The government is demanding the states help pay for prescription drug coverage for these patients

The estimated 8,000 patients who wouldn’t have qualified for Medicare would have had no health care coverage unless they first incurred thousand of dollars in medical expenses, according to the state Division of Medical Assistance, which oversees Medicaid.

"That’s what bothered a lot of us," said Rep. Edd Nye, D-Bladen, a budget negotiator. The Senate had set aside $5 million more to assist displaced patients.

Advocates for the poor and mentally ill were pleased to hear of the negotiators’ decision.

Those people would have eventually cost the state by ending up in public hospital emergency rooms or in the prison system, Mr. Tote said.

House and Senate negotiators were haggling Wednesday over spending for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicaid. Negotiators are trying to complete the two-year spending plan before an Aug. 5 deadline.

Medicaid, the government’s health insurance program for 1.5 million low-income children, elderly and the disabled in North Carolina cost the state $2.3 billion last year.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066