30 Mar State House Panel OKs $18.25 Billion Georgia Budget (GA)

March 30, 2011

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

A Georgia House panel on Thursday approved an $18.25 billion state budget that restores funding for some low-income Medicaid recipients but also boosts health insurance costs for state employees.

The Hous e Appropriations Committee voted 59-1 to OK the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Georgia is facing the loss of some $1 billion in federal stimulus money in the coming year, much of it flowing to schools and Medicaid. So, while revenues in the state have been rebounding, the cuts are continuing. Georgia has slashed some $3 billion in state funds from the budget over the last three years.

Budget writers were left scrambling in recent weeks to address a $250 million shortfall in the state health benefit plan. They’ve proposed a 20 percent jump in insurance premiums for state employees, teachers and retirees to help fill the deep hole.

The plan insures nearly 700,000 state workers, retirees, school employees as well as their dependents. The 20 percent increase will mean employees must pay an additional $15 to $80 a month, depending on the plan they use. The increase could have been as high as 67 percent but lawmakers softened the blow by borrowing some $70 million from Medicaid and increasing health costs for non-certified workers, like custodians and bus drivers

House budget writers on Thursday also restored more than $7 million for vision, dental and podiatry care for low-income Medicaid recipients. Gov. Nathan Deal had proposed the cuts but Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England said that lawmakers concluded the move would ultimately increase costs by forcing poor residents to seek emergency room care.

Lawmakers also scaled back cuts planned for doctors who serve Medicaid patients. The governor’s budget had called for a 1 percent cut in reimbursement rates for physicians. The House reduced that to 0.5 percent.

Pat Cota, a lobbyist for the Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, said it’s been a decade since Georgia doctors have seen a boost in their Medicaid reim bursement rates. She said many physicians are dropping Medicaid patients or stopping medical care altogether. The 1 percent cut, she argued, would have been devastating, especially in rural areas of the state where there are already few doctors.

Lawmakers also scraped together money to fully fund Meals on Wheels for senior citizens, and for the Marcus Institute, which serves autistic children.

The state Inspector General’s office, which investigates misconduct, the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs all took deeper cuts in the House spending blueprint.

The state continued funding for 16 crime victim advocates but England said the money was added in with the understanding that local governments would shoulder the costs after the fiscal year wraps up.

The budget is set to face a vote by the full House on Friday. It must also clear the state Senate before it heads to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

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