Idaho lawmakers set the budgets for five divisions of the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) Tuesday, with all of them seeing a reduction in spending.
The largest reduction on paper is for DHW’s Substance Abuse Treatment & Prevention programs, which would see a $4.8 million reduction in total funding on its $26 million total budget. However, its state spending would only drop $955,700, which would be a 7 percent reduction. Legislative budget analyst Amy Johnson said the extra reduction is house cleaning for money that isn’t really in the budget. “The other items are extra spending authority that there wasn’t any cash to begin with,” she said.
Opposition came from three Democrats on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC), including Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise. “This is not an acceptable time to make drastic reductions in a budget like this,” she said. “We have struggled to make sure that we have even the beginning of enough treatment. We have wait lists in Idaho.”
Republicans said the reductions in the substance abuse budget and for other agencies are necessary. “We all would like to have more to provide in this area, but there are some opportunities for savings and I think we’re moving in the right direction,” said Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls.
“We’re still doing pretty darn well,” said Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene. “We’re doing better than most states. We’re still going to do the best we can for these folks … We will get through this.”
Lawmakers on JFAC also reduced $1.5 million from the state’s Catastrophic Health Care Cost Program, commonly called the CAT Fund. However, the $18.2 million for the CAT Fund is only expected to last six months. That money goes to counties to cover the costs of large health care costs for residents who are uninsured or can’t pay their medical bills. Lawmakers are hoping to drive down the costs to the CAT Fund. “I certainly hope that we can encourage and work with the Department of Health and Welfare to find some savings,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. Legislation passed last year would have people apply for CAT Fund money also apply for Medicaid, which could lead to federal money to cover some of the health care costs.
Hammond said lawmakers are also looking at narrowing down the types of medical procedures that could be paid with CAT Fund money. “We’re working on trying to create the savings necessary by first of all doing only the services medically necessary,” he said. Hammond said, anecdotally, that CAT Funds have covered stomach stapling surgeries in the past.
Idaho’s psychiatric hospitals would see a $1.9 million reduction in general fund spending in the next budget, which begins in July. That would be a 9.7 percent reduction, for a general fund budget of $18 million. The state also gets $10 million from federal and dedicated funds for State Hospital North in Orofino, State Hospital South in Blackfoot, and community hospitalization, which covers overflow when there aren’t enough beds in state psychiatric hospitals for patients.
Mental health services would see an overall reduction of $2.35 million in its total $33 million budget. That’s a 6.5 percent reduction. The state would swap some federal funding with state funding, so general fund spending would only drop 1.5 percent. That federal funding would be transferred from children’s mental health programs to other children’s services in DHW.
LeFavour again opposed the reductions, saying reductions could hurt those contemplating suicide or other violent action. “Our state has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation,” she said. “We really do leave so many people without any recourse at all, and so I cannot support reductions at all in this budget.”
JFAC co-chair Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said lawmakers need to reduce spending, thanks to reduced tax revenue.“We’re just doing a balancing act the best we can,” Bell said. “I know it hurts, but there’s enough hurt to go around.”
Administration costs for medically indigent services would decrease $253,100, a 66 percent reduction of its spending. Much of that money and one of two state employees, would be transferred to DHW’s welfare agency.
JFAC is scheduled to finish setting DHW agency budgets on Thursday. Health and human services take up the second-biggest portion of state general fund spending, behind public education.