Clip files / Local news from the states

This column features selected short items about state health care policy.

Health aid for poor is facing cuts

ATLANTA—Faced with a deficit of nearly $1.5 billion over the next two years and calls for $180 million in state budget cuts, Georgia health officials are having to consider the once unthinkable: slashing enrollment and optional services the poor have long counted on.

Tim Burgess, commissioner of the Department of Community Health, told his governing board that he has been given an extra month to figure out how to make spending cuts in a program already facing a massive deficit.

Mr. Burgess said officials must decide what kind of health care the state can afford to provide to the 1.3 million Georgians covered by state medical programs. "Nothing should be off the table for consideration," he said. "We’re not just nibbling at the edges right now." Talk of limiting enrollment and cutting services worries advocates for the poor, who have been fighting political battles against such proposals for years.

The Department of Community Health started FY 2004, which began July 1, in the hole, because lawmakers took almost $150 million out of its budget at the last minute to balance the state spending plan. The latest estimate is that Medicaid and PeachCare, a health insurance program for poor and middle-income children, will run a $493 million deficit this year, including $190 million in state funds.

The programs run on state and federal money. In FY 2005, which begins July 1, 2004, the deficit is projected to be $1 billion, including $405 million in state funds. In addition, the department, like other agencies, must meet Gov. Sonny Perdue’s call to cut 2.5% this year and 5% next year. That amounts to $100 million, including $40 million in state funds, for FY 2004, and $354 million, with $144 million of it in state funds, next year.

Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Sept. 12, 2003