If there was a handbook for how to deal with a budget crisis, it would say there are three things you should never do: 1) Leave federal money on the table; 2) Make cuts that hurt those who can least afford it; 3) Mislead the public about No.2.
Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration scored a hat trick and managed to do all of the above. It’s withholding payments to community health centers. Actually, “withholding” is their word. It’s more like, “eliminating.” Granted, the governor’s budget office is a pressure cooker dealing with a massive $1.2 billion deficit over the next 18 months. But they should start making better decisions or they are on track to not just poke holes in state’s safety net but to cut it up into little pieces toss it in a barrel and burn it.
Some people might say, “Well, hospitals aren’t getting their money either.” That’s comparing apples to elephants. The state’s federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) depend on a pot of state money—called supplemental payments—to operate, serve those on Medicaid and those who are uninsured. The governor’s budget man, Ben Barnes, sent a letter to the health centers saying in essence, “Don’t hold your breath until you get your money.”
What are the ramifications? The pot of money is $3.89 million. The state’s share is $1.55 million. The lion’s share—$2.34 million—comes from the federal government. But if the state doesn’t release its share, it doesn’t get the federal money. So in order to save $1.55 million on a $1.2 billion deficit, they risk hurting the people who need health services the most. It’s penny-wise and two-tons foolish. It’s the Rell administration all over again.
When asked about short-changing the health centers, Malloy spokesman Chris McClure said, “The Medicaid program is not designed to pad profits, especially at a time when we are staring down excruciating budget cuts…” This is where they break rule No. 3.
State Sen. Mae Flexer, a Killingly Democrat who is known to be unafraid to speak her mind on behalf of her constituents, doesn’t like the administration’s move to withhold the money. “I think it’s terrible. And what [McClure] said about the centers’ ‘profits’ is absolutely not true. They need that money to help people with health care. They have huge caseloads and help the people who need it the most,” she said.
Flexer, a member of the Appropriations Committee, has some serious cred on the issue. She and her entire family go to the Generations Health Center in Danielson.
The health centers lose less money per Medicaid visit than hospitals, but they can’t cost-shift to patients with private insurance. A federal report based on 2014 numbers showed that about 63 percent of the patients are on Medicaid and about 18 percent are uninsured, according to published reports.
It’s worth noting that FQHCs provide preventive care for their patients. If they don’t, the patients wait until it’s an emergency and head to the hospital ER—when the problem is the most chronic and the solution is the most expensive.
It’s unacceptable and counterproductive to withhold the FDHC’s funding.