Budgetary hands are tied for now

POULSBO — Facing $1.6 billion in budget shortfalls, the Washington State Legislature is getting ready to submit a budget where nearly every state-funded program, including previously sacred funds for education and health care could suffer funding cuts.

Officials at long-term care facilities are fearing the worst if the $71 proposed cut from Gov. Gary Locke’s supplemental budget is adopted.

The cuts to the state-sponsored Medicaid program, which assists senior citizens who cannot afford to pay for necessary health care, could be life-threatening at Martha and Mary Lutheran Services in Poulsbo. If the package goes through as planned, the facility would lose $1.1 million — an amount that officials there agree is $1.1 million too much.

According to administrator Chad Solvie, Medicaid dollars are used to pay for everything from direct care and support staff to property expenses. Even so, the amounts provided to Martha and Mary on an annual basis do not meet the needs of the center because the state is consistently raising the level of care requirements for such institutions.

“That’s why this is so hard. We are spending more on each of those categories than the state will recognize,” Solvie said, noting that the state’s unfunded mandates weren’t helping the situation. “What the state is doing is proposing to pay the providers even less for doing the same work.”

Meanwhile, the Legislature hasn’t changed formulas regulating who qualifies for Medicaid — something that Solvie said would translate into even more problems in the future.

As outlandish as the reductions seem to officials in the long-term care field, North Kitsap’s representatives in Olympia agree that the governor’s proposed budget cuts may very well become reality.

“I’m very concerned about the cuts,” said Sen. Phil Rockefeller (D), 23rd District. “The care facilities are telling us they can’t meet their expenses and do things expected under state law — I believe they are correct. It’s a real problem.”

A problem that is compounded drastically by the runaway budget cuts.

Rep. Rockefeller said a number of the facilities impacted were walking what translates in to a budgetary razor’s edge in terms of using Medicaid to stay in operation annually.

Furthermore, he warned that the recession-caused increase in the Medicaid caseload increases the demand for services.

The House, however, doesn’t get first crack at writing the budget during this session, it is the Senate’s turn to do that. Their budget will come out by Monday of next week.

Until then, how deep the proposed budget cuts for long-term care providers like Martha and Mary won’t be known. According to Rep. Rockefeller, the budget cuts will be felt by everybody.

“The pain will be felt by everybody in the state. We’re all in this together. Just as we are doing with our family budgets during the recession, the state must tighten up our budgets and endure this, not expect the other fellow will pay a higher price to spare us pain.”

Although Martha and Mary’s problems mirror those of long-term care facilities throughout the state, Hal Spencer of the Office of Financial Management said he felt the cuts were necessary.

“What we’ve proposed is to cut $72 million that would still leave about $470 million in Medicaid,” Spencer said Tuesday. “The way the nursing home industry is presenting this is that we are taking away from the seniors.”

Actually, he pointed out, the state is simply asking these centers to become more efficient.

“Simply giving them more money will not solve the problem,” Spencer remarked.

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