The GOP’s could and would on Medicaid

The GOP’s could and would on Medicaid

- in Fitzsimon File

The Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services convened Tuesday morning—which you would think would be a good thing.

The state Medicaid program faces a $139 million shortfall that threatens vital services for the most vulnerable people in North Carolina.

But the committee’s five-hour-long nine-item agenda didn’t include the shortfall at all. Senator Martin Nesbitt found that odd and asked Committee Co-Chair Rep. Nelson Dollar about it as the meeting began.

Dollar said the committee would not be taking up the shortfall but took the opportunity to correct what he said was misinformation circulating about the possible cuts to Medicaid services and reductions in reimbursements to health care providers.

Dollar said the General Assembly would not be recommending the cuts because it is too late in the fiscal year and there’s not enough time for the cuts to save enough money.

That seems like yet another change in the position of Republican leaders about Medicaid as they continue to publicly disavow the potentially devastating cuts their own state budget recommended.

In case you are keeping score at home, here’s a quick chronology of the Republicans escape the blame game.

The budget they passed in June counted on savings in the state Medicaid budget they knew were wildly unrealistic. Letters from Governor Beverly Perdue made that clear before the budget was passed.

The budget also directed Health and Human Services Secretary Lanier Cansler to slash services and cut provider reimbursement rates if the savings were not realized. A few weeks ago Cansler told an oversight committee that as expected the savings weren’t there and asked Republican leaders for guidance.

Dollar, with the television cameras rolling, told Cansler not to make the cuts or reduce the rates and said Republican legislative leaders would work with HHS officials to address the shortfall.

House Speaker Thom Tillis told reporters that the General Assembly could shift money from the states savings account to make sure services were not cut.

“Could” was apparently the operative word in Tillis’ statement, as last week his spokesperson said that Tillis didn’t mean they would shift the money.

Dollar and the Republicans essentially told Cansler he needed to find the savings on his own and under the budget law the Republicans passed that means cutting services like vision and hearing care, prescription drugs, even prosthetics for people who have lost an arm or leg.

It seems like the Republicans were for the mean-spirited cuts before they were against them before they were for them again.

The cynical political gamesmanship has understandably caused great anxiety for people who rely on vital Medicaid services and their families.

Dollar bristles when advocates point out the contradictions between the budget he supported and the statements he has made and then disowned later.

And he throws out distractions to try to change the subject, like bringing up past problems in the Medicaid program that are regrettable but don’t explain the decisions made in the budget or the flip-flopping on the shortfall the budget created.

The bottom line is that HHS officials are now left with a $139 million shortfall and a law that orders them to cut services to seniors and people with disabilities to fill it.

Tillis and Dollar could help by shifting money from the state savings account.

If they had any sense of decency and integrity, they would.

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.