More disgraceful doubletalk on Medicaid

More disgraceful doubletalk on Medicaid

- in Fitzsimon File

Republican legislative leaders seemed more determined than ever to force state officials to cut health care services to the most vulnerable people in the state. And they would rather you not know about it, and certainly not blame them for it.

That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from the latest developments about how to handle the $139 million shortfall in the state Medicaid program.

WRAL-TV reported Monday that legislative leaders have told Health and Human Services Secretary Lanier Cansler that they are unwilling to shift any state funds to address the shortfall and that he needs to make the cuts necessary to fill it.

That means either slashing vital services to seniors and people with disabilities or significantly cutting reimbursement rates to doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers.

Lawmakers know those are Cansler’s only options because he told them at a legislative oversight meeting last month when he asked for guidance.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, the Republicans lead human services budget writer in the House, told Cansler then that he should “absolutely not” make either cut and said that the Republican leadership would work with HHS officials to “find the money” to make up the difference.

House Speaker Thom Tillis also brushed aside the possibility of cutting services at the time and said that lawmakers would find the money from the state’s savings account or unspent funds to avoid the cuts.

Now apparently Dollar and Tills are no longer willing to work with Cansler to find the money and would rather see people lose vital health care services.

The Republicans reversal is maddening, but it is not their first about face on Medicaid cuts.

The budget the Republicans approved in June explicitly directed Cansler to cut services and reduce provider rates if projected Medicaid savings didn’t materialize.

Republicans knew then the savings were unrealistic. Governor Beverly Perdue sent letters to legislative leaders in late May and early June detailing her concerns about the unrealistic savings.

The budget writers ignored the warnings and ordered Cansler to make the cuts anyway. They changed their tune last month when Cansler made clear what the cuts would mean, real hardship for real people.

That’s when Dollar and Tillis made their pledges to work with Cansler to avoid slashing services— at an open legislative committee meeting with television news cameras rolling. Now behind the scenes they are insisting on the very cuts they were so concerned about just a few weeks ago.

It is probably just a coincidence that they seem far more interested in protecting health care services at a public meeting than they do when they are crafting a budget provision in private or writing a letter to state officials.

Most troubling of all about the Republicans’ duplicity is that this is not just an inside the beltline political story about a feud between two branches of government.

It affects thousands of people who may no longer have access to prosthetics, vision and hearing care, private-duty nurses and a host of other vital services if Cansler is forced to make the cuts by the Republicans’ refusal to come up with the funding to prevent them.

That would be disgraceful, which is also an apt description of how Republican leaders have behaved in this whole episode.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.