(Updated 4 p.m.) Before adjourning for the Memorial Day holiday the U.S. House of Representatives stripped more than $24 billion for additional state Medicaid funding from a stimulus expansion bill.
That means Connecticut may have a more than $266 million hole in its state budget, since both the General Assembly and Gov. M. Jodi Rell had counted on that money to help fund the $19.01 billion state budget.
U.S. Rep. John Larson, the fourth highest ranking Democrat in the House, cautioned them not to include the money in their budget projections, but they didn’t listen.
At a senior center in the Southend of Hartford Tuesday afternoon, Larson talked about how the votes to pass it with the federal medical assistance percentage, or FMAP, just wasn’t there. He said his colleagues on the other side wouldn’t agree to what they felt was “excessive spending.”
“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die to get there. So there are some who want to see the benefit go through, but not pay for it,” said Larson. Still there’s others who believe it’s “too much spending on these people.”
The Medicaid benefit helps support the health needs of low-income and disabled individuals.
“I’d be happy to pay for it I just don’t see people on the other side coming up with the votes to pay for it. So you can’t have your cake and eat it to,” Larson said.
His colleague, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy agreed.
“Medicaid funding is important for our state, but so is finding a way to pay for it in the federal budget,” Murphy said. “I’ve expressed my concerns to leaders in both Hartford and Washington, and I hope that in the coming weeks we can come up with a solution that gives relief to state governments without breaking the bank.”
While the House was debating the measure Friday, the Senate adjourned without taking up the measure. The Senate version of the bill includes the $24 billion in additional Medicaid funding, but there will be no further action on the measure until the week of June 7.
“The Senate adjourned and the House skinnied down its bill in order to get the votes, especially for those who are saying we’re paying too much,” Larson said. “Initially there was broad agreement on what to take up in both the House and the Senate.”
In order to appease Republicans and conservative Democrats, House leaders tossed aside the provision that would extend the additional Medicaid payment for six months.
Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell didn’t seem worried about the set back.
“We have been following the FMAP issue closely and our congressional delegation has been working on our behalf. I am confident they will continue to push for the funds,” Rell said in a statement Tuesday.
Last week patients and advocates gathered at an East Hartford nursing home in support of the additional Medicaid funding.
Matthew Barrett, executive vice president of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, said last week that the legislature already cut $300 million from nursing homes over the next two fiscal years, which makes the increased Medicaid money from Washington D.C. even more important.
Coupled with the $14.5 billion cut in Medicare in the national health care reform bill over the next 10 years, Barrett said, “it’s more important than ever that Congress work quickly to approve the money.”
Nursing home administrators like Karen Chatterton are warning residents to prepare for the worst.
“The highest quality of care is being threatened,” Chatterton, chief administrator at Riverside, told a packed room last week. “You need to know these cuts are going to cut the heart out of our facility and other facilities like ours.”
She said if Congress fails to pass the bill it could impact the staffing and labor at the facility.
Rep. John Geragosian, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said last week that state budget revenues ebb and flow and the state could look at dealing with it “in a deficiency manner,” like it does when state agencies spend more than anticipated. He said state revenues are up and adjustments to account for any loss in federal revenue may not even be necessary.
Connecticut isn’t alone.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 states reported that their budgets, either proposed or already enacted, assume Congressional approval of the six-month extension to the Medicaid funding.