Senate HHS budget a high-wire act, no netsby John Kennedy | March 21st, 2011
A stark state spending plan, flush with red ink, began taking shape Monday in the state Senate, with school dollars sliced 6.5 percent and a health care proposal on track to save $1 billion in Medicaid spending, much of it from program cuts.
Health and Human Services budget chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, praised the Senate’s $28 billion for maintaining spending on some key program, including funding for homeless, AIDS drug assistance, and the state’s KidCare and Healthy Start insurance programs.
But he acknowledged the Senate — like the House — is ready to recast Medicaid, putting almost 3 million Floridians into managed care programs to trim costs, while also cutting services.
“We’ve heard that the current system is irretrievably broken, so we’re starting a new system,” Negron said.
A Medicaid pilot program operating in five counties since 2006, including Broward, has been derided as a failure by many critics. But Negron said the new program will look nothing like the pilot program and will not drive frustrated patients to use hospital emergency rooms — one of the costliest venues for care.
But the Senate is banking heavily on its high-wire reform effort. In the budget unveiled Monday, hospitals would lose 10 percent of state funding for treating both in- and outpatient Medicaid recipients — cutting $450 million from the budget.
The Medically Needy program, an optional program long paid by the state and federal governments, would be sharply scaled back to save $230 million under the Senate budget — eliminating financial help given transplant patients and other hard-to-insure Floridians.
School funding, meanwhile, would drop 6.5 percent under the Senate plan. In the good-cop, bad-cop approach of budgeters, that’s still the mildest slice: The House has recommended a 7.7 percent per-pupil reduction, while Gov. Rick Scott called for a 10 percent drop.