State lawmakers are considering a plan to lift a block on nearly $7 million in state budget cuts.
In November, an interim legislative committee put a hold on a cut passed this year to the amount the state pays healthcare providers who take Medicaid. Now, some members of that committee want to lift that hold, meaning the pay cut would take place immediately, instead of in 2019.
Several members of the Children, Families, Health, and Human Services Committee are pushing for a vote before Christmas on whether to lift the block on Medicaid provider cuts.
The committee voted to put the block in October and November, saying the state health department needed to come back with more justification for how the agency was planning to make cuts. The health department made them in response to a bill cutting the overall state budget when revenues came up shorter than expected.
Representative Kathy Kelker, a Billings Democrat, was the lone member of the committee who voted against blocking the Medicaid cuts. She is now pushing for lawmakers to lift their objection and allow the cuts happen.
“The objections are only delaying the inevitable. There have to be cuts in order to balance the budget. And to continue with the rates that are current only creates more debt. I think everybody was hoping there would be some other solutions, new revenues, whatever, and that did not happen. So we have to be the grown ups in the room and face reality and make some choices," Kelker says.
A couple of other committee members told MTPR they’ll join Kelker in trying to lift the block on the budget cuts.
State Health Department Director Sheila Hogan late last month asked lawmakers to withdraw their objection and allow the agency to go ahead with their planned cuts.
But the committee’s chair, Helena Democrat Senator Mary Caferro, says the health department still hasn’t provided a good explanation for why they're cutting Medicaid provider pay.
“The reason I am continuing to object is because the department still has not done that,” Caferro says.
In a letter, Hogan told committee members that the Department needs to cut provider pay rates, "as soon as possible because any delay in implementing rate reduction would serve only to create additional budget shortfall for the Department and possibly compel the Department to propose future rate cuts …"
Hogan says the Department is reducing its initial proposed rate-cut by about half a percent, to just under 3 percent. But that assumes that the new rates would take effect the first of the year. The rate cut could need to be deeper, Hogan says, if it’s put in place later in the year or in 2019.
Members of the Children, Families, Health, and Human Services Committee will meet January 18, and could vote on removing the block on Medicaid provider cuts then.