During a packed meeting Tuesday morning, members of the Senate Appropriations committee discussed their $20.2 billion budget.
By Rose Hoban
During a standing room only meeting this morning at the General Assembly, the full Senate Appropriations Committee discussed their proposed $20.2 billion budget for about 40 minutes, and then allowed about an hour of public input on the provisions included in it.
Sen. Richard Stevens (R-Cary) outlined the broad plan of the health and human services budget, which focuses on Medicaid and the program’s $150 million deficit.
“The main thing we’re doing is plugging a net $230 million of additional money into our Medicaid budget in various areas,” Stevens said. He also introduced a proposed review of Medicaid by the state auditor, and discussed the possibility that Medicaid should be split off the rest of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Medicaid budget gap exists, in part, as the result of overly optimistic projections of savings from the Community Care of North Carolina program made in last year’s budget, when savings of more than $90 million were anticipated for each year of the biennium. Achieving the savings required approval of changes from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but the approvals were slow in coming, delaying implementation of the cost saving measures.
“What we’re going to do in this budget is bite the bullet and get back in front of Medicaid,” Stevens said.
A stream of advocates each signed up for a limited number of three minute slots to ask for restored funding to their programs.
One was Kristy Andrews, the widow of Justin Andrews, a 30-year-old lung cancer victim, who appears in a series of anti-smoking commercials.
“I receive countless emails every week from people across the state who tell me the story about how one 30-second commercial changed their lives,” Andrews told the committee, testifying as she held her six-year-old son Jeffery. “When you get your Father’s Day cards this Sunday, my son will be sending his card to heaven on a balloon. Please don’t give
up on the next generation.”
Other advocates focused on messages that spoke to the fiscal benefits of their programs.
“If uninsured patients cannot get medications from safety net providers, they’ll go to the emergency department to seek short term supplies,” said John Carr, a lobbyist for the N.C Association of Free Clinics, asking to restore $1.7 million in funds for the Medication Assistance Program.
Carr said the program assisted uninsured patients to apply to pharmaceutical company charity programs, allowing them to access more than $78 million in free drugs last year.
“The uninsured go off and on Medicaid… you want them to be as healthy as possible when they come onto Medicaid,” Carr said.
Three speakers from conservative organizations each spoke in praise of the budget.
Committee chair Pete Brunstetter (R-Lewisville) wrapped up the Senate’s approach to the budget in response to questions by Sen. Martin Nesbitt (D-Asheville). Brunstetter told Nesbitt, in effect, that if there was no allocation for a program written into the budget last year, senators were unlikely to add one for the upcoming year.
Advocates for health care services say they know some of the cuts in the Senate budget will be used as bargaining chips with House members during budget conference committee meetings. But many expressed disappointment at the Senate’s approach to this year’s spending plan.
Programs from last year that received non-recurring funding, and were excluded from the Senate budget:
- $17 million for tobacco cessation programs, including the Quitline, Tobacco. Reality. Unfiltered youth smoking prevention campaign and the statewide media campaign
- $8.4 million to county health departments for health and wellness initiatives
- $3.5 million to create 19 extra psychiatric beds at Broughton Hospital
- $1.7 million for the Medication Assistance Program that assists uninsured patients gain access to prescription drugs through pharmaceutical company donation programs
- $1.7 million for the ChecKMeds Program that provides counseling on the correct use of prescription drugs
- $1.25 million increase for the Home and Community Care Block Grant to provide services so 1,100 seniors can receive some assistance to stay in their homes
- $1.1 million in funding for teen pregnancy prevention
- $375,000 for maternity homes
- $375,000 for the ECU High Risk Maternity Clinic
- $300,000 for the Roanoke-Chowan Telehealth Network
- $197,000 in lost federal money for services to rape victims
Other programs funded in the House budget, but not the Senate budget, or funded at a lower level in the Senate budget included:
- $18 million fewer dollars to purchase psychiatric “bed days” in community hospitals
- $14 million fewer for the “Transitions to Community Living Fund” which partly resolves the US Department of Justice’s investigation of North Carolina’s housing for adults with disabilities
- $11.5 million for the Eugenics Reserve Fund