KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Medicaid Cuts Hurt Calif. Dental Coverage, Drive Away Doctors in Okla.; Public Hospitals In NYC Fear Possible Reductions

NPR: "In California, it's been seven months since some 3 million poor and disabled adults lost their dental coverage to budget cuts. ... While the recession may be easing, California and other states across the country continue to face eye-popping budget deficits. As a result, states are cutting deep into public health programs, and dental benefits for Medicaid recipients top the list. ... Before the state budget cuts, Medicaid patients here could get annual exams, cleanings and, if needed, root canals to save their teeth. ... In interviews with dozens of dentists and safety-net clinics around California, providers say patients are forgoing routine cleanings and delaying care until the pain is unbearable. Dentists are offering discounts and payment plans, but they say few patients can afford them. Dental schools and free clinics are overrun, and some private dental offices and at least one community dental clinic have closed. Under federal law, dental coverage is considered an optional benefit that states don't have to provide when insuring poor or disabled residents" (Varney, 2/21).

The New York Times: "The city's public hospital system, the largest in the nation, is facing a fiscal crisis because New York State is threatening to cut its financing for the care of poor patients at a time when the number of uninsured patients has soared, city officials said Sunday. The cuts, included in Gov. David A. Paterson's executive budget proposal, could drain from the public hospitals up to $370 million, much of it in federal financing, and shift the money to programs in voluntary, or private, hospitals, the city officials said." State officials said the cuts are part of the state's effort "to close a huge deficit by pulling back on longstanding budget commitments. State budget officials said, however, that much of the proposed cutback was the result of federal stimulus money running out"(Hartocollis, 2/22). 

The Associated Press/(Monroe, La.) News Star: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will most likely face "a budget battle this legislative session [with] health care providers, represented by several powerful lobbying groups with political sway at the Louisiana Capitol. While Jindal was making nice with higher education, he was proposing to cut payments to doctors, nursing homes, hospitals and other private providers in the state's Medicaid program. That would cut into the bottom line of businesses across the state. ... Jindal proposed a $24.2 billion budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year that begins July 1. ... The state's Medicaid program for the poor, elderly and disabled would receive the biggest hit if Jindal's budget recommendations are followed" (2/22).

Florida Health News: Florida will get "a refund of $282.5 million in overpayments to Medicare, thanks to a recalculation of drug premiums for low-income elderly and disabled patients. It couldn't have come at a better time, with state lawmakers facing a Medicaid budget shortfall that could top $1 billion next year, said Lori Parham, state director for AARP. ... This will provide some 'needed fiscal relief' and may reduce the threat of cuts to programs such as home- and community-based care for seniors. ... The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is giving other states refunds, too, a total of $4.3 billion. HHS' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says the states are getting back some of the money they paid as their share of Medicare drug-plan premiums for the so-called 'dual eligibles,' who have incomes so low they qualify for Medicaid. Medicare is a federal program, but Medicaid is jointly financed by the states and federal government" (Gentry and Saunders, 2/19).

The Associated Press/NBC Washington: "The Virginia House of Delegates proposes a dire new state budget that will cut Medicaid funding and eligibility, increase school class sizes and cut public school funding. The Appropriations Committee's spending blueprint through 2012 made public Sunday reflects many of the $2 billion in unprecedented cuts Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell suggested last week. ... The Senate Finance committee was expected to unveil a budget later Sunday that would cut less to public schools and to health care safety net programs" (Lewis and Potter, 2/21). 

Muskogee (Oklahoma) Daily Phoenix: "The Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board approved a $17 million cut in the state's Medicaid program SoonerCare late last year and some effects have already been felt." Several doctors and dentists said they believe fewer health professionals will see SoonerCare patients because of the cuts and that patients are foregoing care or showing up with more severe health issues (Purtell, 2/22).

The (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review: A fund that covers the health care for state workers in Washington state is hemorrhaging funds after the state cut its premium payments and the fund spent down a surplus. "But the Health Care Authority's surplus disappeared faster than state officials expected. At the end of 2009, the balance sheet of the authority's Public Employees Benefit Board fund showed 'stunning declines in assets, capital and surplus, net income and cash provided by operations,' Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler warned in a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire." Assets are down $200 million in 2009 with more liabilities than assets by $3 million. "The fund collects the premiums for state employees and pays out their medical and dental claims. Under the current contract, the state pays 88 percent of the premium and employees pay 12 percent." A strong surplus and economy meant a state budget was made to cut back state payments into the fund, now hurting the fund's viability (Camden, 2/20).

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