Governor looking to curve Medicaid spending

David Arkin

Gov. Bill Richardson has proposed a 3.5 percent reduction in payments to providers of medical services in an effort to put a squeeze on Medicaid spending next fiscal year.
Health care groups want Medicaid fully funded next year, saying cuts to the program would be devastating. Lawmakers realize they have some tough decisions ahead of them and many don’t want to make any changes to the program that would have a negative impact on seniors or the disabled.
But lawmakers also recognize that Medicaid is going to be a budget buster.
While issues like DWI legislation and capital outlay projects are hot topics, nothing seems to be more important to citizens and lawmakers than the Medicaid crisis.
The governor has recommended about $63 million in Medicaid savings. He also is seeking fee and tax increases to collect an extra $26 million for the program.
Sen. Clinton Harden, R-Clovis, knows just how difficult decisions with Medicaid will be.
“Medicaid is truly a budget buster,” he said. “Let’s not cut benefits to seniors and disabled. There are some things in society that we have to pay for.”
Medicaid all comes down to money.
“A lot of the other things that we do (such as programs), we just might not be able to do this year,” said Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton. “We just don’t have the money to do all of them.”
Rep. Jose Campos, R-Santa Rosa, said Medicaid is crucial to the state.
“But there’s just not enough money to help fully fund it,” he said.
Last week, Harden heard Anna Otero Hatanaka of the Association of Developmental Disabilities Community Providers testimony to a Senate committee where she explained just how detrimental cuts to Medicaid would be.
“I asked an official at the hearing to put a face on the individuals we were cutting benefits to,” Harden said. “In other words, what portion of the population that uses Medicaid benefits would be impacted the most dramatically and she told me aging people and those with disabilities.”
Harden said he wanted to make sure officials looked in every corner before cuts were made.
“I want to make sure we’ve done everything in the administrative area before we start taking benefits away,” he said.
Moore, whose district includes Quay County, said as a Republican, he’s been encouraging officials for a number of years to cut back costs of Medicaid.
Legislators could face two proposals – a bed tax and a tax on premium insurance. Neither is popular with lawmakers, Moore said.
“I haven’t heard a lot of good discussions about those ideas,” Moore said. “But if we don’t pass those the governor will look at his options and he would then maybe make a 4.5 or 5 percent reduction. I don’t know that he will do that though.”
Campos, whose district includes both Curry and Roosevelt counties said he doesn’t support the governor’s proposals.
“I’m just having a hard time going with it,” he said. “It’s just too hard for some of those facilities to come up with this kind of money. The state it biting too much. It’s going to be difficult to pass this.”
Moore said if people look at the benefits that are paid, they will see that the program has an “extremely rich benefits package.”
“It covers 100 percent of pharmacy costs, emergency room visits and any surgery,” he said. “Maybe it shouldn’t be quite so expensive.
“But every state I know is having huge issues with it (Medicaid).”