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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hundreds Attend Texas Hearings on Budget Cuts

From the Austin

By Tim Eaton Thursday, February 11, 2010, 05:54 PM

More than 300 people turned out on a rainy afternoon to hear how Texas’ health and human services agencies might cut their budgets.

Representatives from several health and human services departments were on hand to hear from the public before they present budget-cutting options to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus.

Under the Health and Human Services system umbrella there are several entities: The Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services; the Department of Family and Protective Services; the Department of State Health Services; the Department of Aging and Disability Services and the Health and Human Services Commission.

The departments were told to protect some vital areas. The leaders said that “there should be no reductions to benefits or client eligibility levels in the Medicaid entitlement, Children’s Health Insurance Program and foster care programs.”

Click here to read the letter.

Many of the cost-cutting options could be made through hiring freezes, the agencies said. But the Department of State Health Services also mentioned a reduction in trauma funds and the elimination of 200 beds and 420 full-time employees at four mental health hospitals.

The possible cuts also included a 1 percent reduction in the rates paid to health care professionals providing care to Medicaid recipients.

See an earlier blog here. And read a HHS-generated breakdown of possible cuts here.

Advocates for the elderly, the sick and those people who use services provided by Texas’ health and human services agencies spoke at the hearing.

Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the non-profit Center for Public Policy Priories, which advocates for low-income Texans, said her organization was concerned about the rate cut to doctors and health professionals.

“Doctors right now in Texas Medicaid are getting paid around 65 percent of what Medicare pays,” she said. “The end result is you have lots and lots of doctors who won’t take Medicaid patients.”

David Thomason, senior vice president at the Texas Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, told the health and human services leaders that cutting services at this point will result in care for seniors being jeopardized.

Eva DeLuna Castro, the general budget analyst of the Center for Public Policy Priories, also spoke and told the room that there’s no real reason to make cuts right now. This fiscal year doesn’t end until August of 2011, and there’s enough money to cover operations through next fiscal year, too, she said.

Instead of calling for cuts now, lawmakers should return to work in January of 2011, and then tap into the $9 billion Rainy Day Fund to keep agencies going, Castro said. They also should find new ways to raise revenue, she added.

In their letter, Perry, Dewhurst and Straus said that action is needed now because of “uncertainly of the state’s short-term economic future. They also said they were told by the state comptroller that the recession has substantially weakened the tax revenues the flow into state coffers.

The health and human services leaders will submit their recommendations on Monday and Tuesday.

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