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Goodbye to BHP, GAU and huge parts of public health?

Post by News Tribune Staff on March 11, 2009 at 12:11 pm with No Comments »
March 11, 2009 12:11 pm

It’s JUST a budget drill, but if the $8 billion budget shortfall didn’t get the attention of legislators, the budget-cutting exercise will.

Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, told me a couple weeks ago that the first round of the exercise was to assume an all-cuts budget with no federal stimulus funds. (But I’m not sure if the information I got this morning was based on those ground rules. It matters a lot. The gravity of the situation, and all.)

Anyway, here’s what the House is looking at after that extreme exercise:

1. 100 percent elimination of the Basic Health Plan, the state-subsidize health coverage program for working poor. The governor’s budget proposal called for a 40 percent cut to save $252 million, so I’m assuming total elimination would save about $700 million.

2. Eliminate General Assistance Unemployable (GAU) and Alcohol Drug Addiction Treatment Support Act (ADATSA), same as the governor did in her budget proposal. That saves $415 million.

3. Eliminate the “backfill” for county public health departments. I think that adds up to about $50 million over a 2-year budget. (This is the money that went away after Tim Eyman’s I-695 and the Legislature’s decision to repeal the state Motor Vehicle Excise Tax.)

4. Eliminate the Adult dental, vision and hearing services under the Medicaid program. Don’t have a dollar amount for that one yet.

5. A 14 percent cut to hospital reimbursement rates. (The guv had 4 percent cuts in her budget.)

6. Ten percent deeper cuts to nursing home reimbursements. (The governor did cut some in her budget, but the Legislature countermanded those cuts in its “belt-tightening” bill of a couple weeks ago.

Susan Eidenschink (League of Women Voters), Robbie Stern, chairman of the Healthy Washington Coalition and Jack Johnson of Community Action Network happened by as I was writing this up. So I asked what they thought of the drill.

“If the cuts are like that, they’re drastic,” Eidenschink said. “The safety net would be just about demolished.”

Stern said that drill must not take into account the $1.77 billion the state is getting in additional Medicaid dollars from the feds because the cuts should not be that deep. And if they are that deep, that means the state budget-writers are diverting state dollars that are freed up by the arrival of federal health dollars to other uses, he said.

I also got a hold of Cassie Sauer, spokeswoman for the Washington State Hospital Association, which has an abiding interest in all things related to health care, and asked her for a comment.

“They are very scary about where we might be headed in an all-cuts budget,” she said of the proposed cuts, drill or not. “The level of devastation to the health care safety net and to vulnerable people who need health care is immense.”

The goal of Healthy Washington Coalition, by the way, is to preserve all of the programs that would be cut under the above scenario, plus keep family planning and mental health. And to ask lawmakers to use Medicaid money (and the state money that is freed up) to restore health care cuts before looking to replenish other areas of spending.

The coalition also is pushing Senate Bill 5945, which establish in state law the goal of covering all Washingtonians with health care plan by 2012.

State budget
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