By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center would lose about $3 million over two years if Ohio Gov. Bob Taft's proposal to freeze Medicaid reimbursement rates takes effect.
"Children's hospitals cannot withstand another blow to the safety net. We are seeing more children on Medicaid, many of whom are sicker and are staying with us longer for care," said Dee Ellingwood, senior vice president of planning and business development.
Cincinnati Children's today joined a statewide lobbying effort by pediatric hospitals to protest Medicaid cuts that Taft has proposed to close a potential $4 billion shortfall in the state budget.
In January, Taft called for about $1 billion in cuts to the Medicaid program, including freezing the rates paid to nursing homes, hospitals and doctors; reducing income eligibility requirements that would cut about 30,000 low-income parents from the program; and reducing coverage for dentists, eye doctors, psychologists, chiropractors and podiatrists.
Statewide, a Medicaid freeze would cost hospitals $180 million over two years, according to the Ohio Hospitals Association.
For Cincinnati Children's, Medicaid makes up about 35 percent of total revenue, but the program doesn't meet the actual costs of providing care.
In fiscal 2001 (year ended June 30), Cincinnati Children's lost $8 million on Medicaid services.
In 2002, it lost more than $20 million.
Any rate freeze or other cuts to the program would aggravate an already difficult situation, Ellingwood said.
The proposed Medicaid cuts are not deep enough to cause Children's to eliminate services, Ellingwood said. But they could result in longer waiting times for nonurgent care sought through the emergency department, as well as slower access to dental clinics, mental health services and other services.
On Tuesday, some working parents wondered what the Medicaid cuts would cost them.
Price Hill resident Olandria Williams has three children, all of whom have asthma. She works full time, but depends on family coverage through Medicaid.
Arranging coverage through her employer would cost hundreds of dollars a month.
"The government wants us to get off welfare, and do this and do that. But without a medical card, I would be nowhere," Williams said.
"As a working mother, that medical card is the best thing ever for my family."
Orest Holubec, spokesman for Taft, said the proposal to freeze Medicaid rates is just one of many hard decisions the governor had to make to present a balanced budget.
"The children's hospitals are not being treated any differently than other providers," Holubec said. "We simply do not have the money to fund the Medicaid program at its current level."
Supporters of pediatric hospitals plan to hold a rally March 19 in Columbus to protest the proposed Medicaid cuts.
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