House, Senate Leaders Debate Medicaid Spending

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(Host) One of the most difficult issues for the Legislature to resolve in the final weeks of the session is how to control costs for the state’s Medicaid program.

The House has passed a plan that imposes new co-payments and deductibles for many services. The House is also supporting a 36-cent increase in the state cigarette tax to provide additional revenues for these programs. The Senate has restored many of the House cuts by raising the cigarette tax by 67 cents.

Speaking last night on VPR’s Switchboard program, House Majority Leader John LaBarge said it’s critical for lawmakers to begin the effort to scale back coverage of many Medicaid programs this year:

(LaBarge) "I’m concerned that if we raise 67 cents and we stem the tide for two years, that we have not done since Act 15 was passed, controlled the number of enrollees on the program. We’ve allowed it to expand and V-SCRIPT is expanding at 18% a year. So I’m just concerned that we’re going to continue not to control the number of enrollees on these programs and the people are going to become dependent and then we’ll have to address possible cuts in the future and I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think that’s right to play with people like that and get them dependent on a program and then pull the rug out from under them."

(Host) But Senate Health and Welfare Chairwomen Nancy Chard says the budget increases in these programs are due primarily to rising health care expenses and Chard says it’s going to take a comprehensive approach to get these costs under control:

(Chard) "We’re doing things – we have a variety of actions right now that we don’t know what the impact is yet. The bottom line is, there’s no one strategy. You can’t just cut people off the rolls, you can’t just cut benefits, you can’t just keep hospitals from building, you can’t just control pharmacy costs. We have to do all of those things and most of all, the federal government has got to step up to the bat."

(Host) A House-Senate conference committee is meeting in an effort to find a compromise approach to this and other budget disagreements between the two chambers.

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