Com­mu­nity Health asks for ex­tra mil­lions for Med­i­caid

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - By Andy Miller

The state’s main health care agency is re­quest­ing an ad­di­tional $36 mil­lion for the cur­rent fis­cal year and an ex­tra $203 mil­lion for fis­cal 2019.

The board of the state De­part­ment of Com­mu­nity Health on Thurs­day, Aug. 24, ap­proved those fund­ing re­quests, which would be added to the base agency bud­get of $14.8 bil­lion (most of that amount is fed­eral money). Now they go to the gover­nor’s of­fice for con­sid­er­a­tion.

The re­quests come de­spite Gov. Nathan Deal say­ing that agen­cies should not seek ad­di­tional spend­ing over the up­com­ing year.

The Com­mu­nity Health bud­get is dom­i­nated by Med­i­caid ex­pen­di­tures. The health in­sur­ance pro­gram cov­ers 1.8 mil­lion Ge­or­gians. To­gether with PeachCare and kids in the state em­ployee and teacher plan, Com­mu­nity Health pro­vides health care to about half of the chil­dren in Ge­or­gia.

One in four Ge­or­gians get health ben­e­fits through Com­mu­nity Health pro­grams.

Lisa Walker, the agency’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, also said the state em­ployee and teach­ers health plan, af­ter de­clin­ing bud­get sur­pluses, is pro­jected to have a deficit of $241 mil­lion in fis­cal year 2020. The State Health Ben­e­fit Plan cov­ers about 650,000 state work­ers, teach­ers, other school per­son­nel, retirees and de­pen­dents.

The bud­get out­line also de­scribed a sav­ings of $17.6 mil­lion this fis­cal year as a re­sult of the agency’s au­dit to ver­ify el­i­gi­ble de­pen­dents in the State Health Ben­e­fit Plan.

The cur­rent fis­cal year re­quest in­cludes $14 mil­lion in spend­ing growth for Med­i­caid ben­e­fi­cia­ries in the “Aged, Blind and Dis­abled’’ cat­e­gory. Com­mu­nity Health is also seek­ing $22 mil­lion in “dis­pro­por­tion­ate share’’ pay­ments to hos­pi­tals that serve a high num­ber of in­di­gent pa­tients.

Walker said that the 2019 bud­get as­sumed “every­thing re­mains the same,’’ re­gard­ing pos­si­ble changes to the Af­ford­able Care Act. At­tempts to re­peal the 2010 law have stalled in Congress.

The 2019 bud­get in­crease in­cludes a re­quest for an ad­di­tional $143 mil­lion for Med­i­caid. It also con­tains $12 mil­lion for a 3 per­cent in­crease in Med­i­caid rates paid to nurs­ing homes.

Board mem­ber Roger Fol­som said that Com­mu­nity Health should look for ways to em­pha­size pre­ven­tive care for cov­ered ben­e­fi­cia­ries. Such treat­ment for peo­ple with di­a­betes, he noted, can save money on ex­pen­sive care in fu­ture years.

Fol­som said he wor­ried about the “fu­ture sus­tain­abil­ity’’ of Med­i­caid and other health pro­grams. “We have to look at the bud­get three, four, five years down the road.”

The bud­get out­line also fea­tures $2.3 mil­lion for 131 new med­i­cal res­i­dency slots, part of a push to per­suade newly grad­u­ated physi­cians to prac­tice in Ge­or­gia.

Fis­cal year 2019 be­gins next July 1.

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