Douglas warns of Medicaid deficit, reduced benefits

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(Host) An increasing deficit in the Medicaid program is a concern for Vermont’s new administration. According to incoming governor Jim Douglas, the deficit will require reductions in benefits for some Medicaid recipients.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) With the appointment of Burlington banker Charles Smith as the new secretary of Human Services, Douglas is sending a clear signal that he wants an experienced business manager to restructure many of the programs at the Agency.

Douglas says he wants to protect essential services for those Vermonters in need, but he says the state’s fiscal problems may require some changes for people who are on the upper end of the Medicaid eligibility scale. Roughly 130,000 Vermonters participate in the various programs that are part of the overall Medicaid program:

(Douglas) “That means that we’ll have to look at a possible restructuring of the Medicaid program, in particular, in order to save it for those who need it most. One idea I suggested was that those who are at the upper ends of the income levels pay proportionately more in order to preserve the program. [The] Joint Fiscal office has made it clear that we’re on a course that’s unsustainable fiscally. The original projections a few months ago were a shortfall in that program approaching $100 million in five years. The latest numbers I saw suggest it might be a $140 million problem in five years. So we’ve got some serious decisions to make.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says it’s time to review the full range of Medicaid benefits that are available to see if there are places where some programs can be scaled back:

(Douglas) “I brought back a comparative chart of the coverage levels, based on the percentage of the poverty level around the country. And we’re quite generous, as I’m sure everyone knows. So we’re going to have to look at our menu of services at our program in this area and make some difficult choices.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he hopes to work with the Bush administration on ways to seek additional waivers in the Medicaid program because the waivers would give the state a lot more flexibility in using federal funds. He says he’s been assured by Health and Human Services Commissioner Tommy Thompson that the president will look favorably at any waiver plans proposed by the new Douglas administration.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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