Leaders of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) sent a letter to Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) director Dick Armstrong Thursday asking him to prioritize the state’s adult cystic fibrosis funding. JFAC didn’t approve a $150,000 funding line item for treating the chronic lung disease when it set a DHW budget March 4, but wants the state program to continue.
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-signed the letter with Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. The letter asks DHW to find or prioritize funding for the adult cystic fibrosis program. He said the specific funding for it was excluded because most state agencies aren’t receiving special funding for line items. “It didn’t make sense for us to fund that line item when we haven’t been funding any line items,” he said before JFAC’s Thursday meeting. The letter said that if the line item had been funded, it would have required additional cuts elsewhere in DHW’s budget.
“I’d love to see this (letter be) stronger, but you’ve got to give them the flexibility,” said Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene.
Armstrong told IdahoReporter.com that he’s not sure that DHW can find funding for cystic fibrosis, given budget reductions approved by JFAC. “The budget reality makes it extremely difficult for us to fund one disease over another, no matter how awful the disease is,” he said. “The division of health has been subject to reductions now for a number of years. Our appropriation the other day set us back again. We’re now trying to determine what we can do and what we can’t do.”
Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said JFAC gave DHW flexibility in dealing with budget reductions, but wanted to make its intentions about cystic fibrosis clear. “We’re not going to micromanage the department at times like this,” he said. Wood also helped set a budget that would ask DHW to find $42 million in Medicaid savings. The cystic fibrosis program spending would come out of a different agency budget, though lawmakers have given DHW some flexibility in transferring state money among DHW agencies.
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