Friday, March 14, 2003

Medicaid cuts would hurt Children's, CFO testifies

By Shelley Davis
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Cincinnati Children's Hospital would have to cut mental health services, dental programs and discount immunizations it offers to low-income children if Gov. Bob Taft's proposed cutbacks in Medicaid spending are approved, a hospital officer testified Thursday.

Scott Hamlin, the hospital's chief financial officer, told the House Finance Committee that children's hospitals across Ohio are already struggling to make ends meet and said things will only get worse if lawmakers freeze payments to hospitals and doctors.

The freeze is part of the governor's plan to cut $468 million in state Medicaid spending over the next two years.

"In a very real sense, we are risking forcing these safety-net hospitals for our poorest citizens to limit access," Hamlin said.

The money hospitals get from Ohio Medicaid now isn't enough to cover rising staff, insurance and drug costs, Hamlin said.

Ohio's children's hospitals stand to lose up to $25 million from the state's freeze on Medicaid payments, Hamlin said.

The average cost of covering a child through Medicaid is about $119 per month, and children's hospitals make up only 3 percent of the state's $7 billion annual Medicaid budget, according to the Ohio Children's Hospital Association.

Andrew Carter, president of the Ohio Children's Hospital Association, told lawmakers Medicaid cutbacks would reverberate through all hospitals, forcing patients to wait longer for care.

"If a hospital has to cancel plans to recruit a needed pediatric neurosurgeon, all the kids needing specialty care will be affected, not just kids on Medicaid," Carter said.

Hamlin said the state should not look to kids to find savings. Children make up 60 percent of Medicaid enrollees, but account for only 18 percent of Medicaid spending.

Though Medicaid doesn't provide much money for most Ohio hospitals, it takes up a bigger chunk of the money flowing to the state's six regional children's hospitals.

Hamlin said Cincinnati Children's Hospital alone has seen a 15 percent increase in Medicaid business over the past 18 months.

Low-income children rely on Cincinnati Children's Hospital as their primary provider for health services, medicine and dental care. No other hospital is willing or financially able, to offer these services, because Medicaid doesn't bring back enough money, Hamlin said.

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