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Governor wrong on Medicaid cuts
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Senate Democrats call on the Senate and the lieutenant governor to stand with the House in restoring the cuts to Georgia’s Medicaid program proposed by the governor. These cuts will cripple the state’s hospitals, physicians and other providers and the most vulnerable Georgians they care for.

It’s irresponsible for the governor to refuse to draw down all the federal matching funds for Medicaid made available to the state through the federal stimulus package. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute estimates that the governor’s cuts do just that — leaving more than $1 billion in federal dollars in Washington — $1 billion that could be used to care for our constituents and keep health care readily available in our districts. Regardless of how you personally feel about the federal stimulus package, it’s important to keep in mind that these are federal funds already allocated for health care to be disbursed to the states. The question is simply whether Georgia is going to get its fair share, or will we let $1 billion of our money go somewhere else?

In these unprecedented economic times, Georgia cannot afford to fail to use every avenue available to us in order to balance our state budget. It would be irresponsible not to do so.

Further, Senate Democrats believe it’s unconscionable for the governor to attempt to supplant federal dollars meant specifically for Medicaid into other state department budgets. His budget proposal moved literally hundreds of millions of Medicaid dollars away from the DCH budget to create the hole he now says only cuts to hospitals and physicians can fill. Now we haven’t heard anyone explain where the money really went, but we believe that games and gimmicks like this will put Georgia in the same light as companies like AIG, which, as you know, have run roughshod over the intent of Congress by using federal bailout dollars for other purposes.

Last Wednesday, the governor penned a letter to Speaker Richardson and the lieutenant governor saying that Rep. Mickey Channell’s budget for DCH uses fuzzy math and won’t balance, and he falls back on Office of Planning and Budget estimates that say the House budget falls short. If that’s the case, there was ample opportunity for OPB to explain their methodology and their use of federal stimulus dollars while the Health Appropriations Subcommittee was trying to balance the FY 2010 Medicaid budget.  

Instead, at the last minute, the governor refused to allow them to appear before Chairman Channell’s Health Appropriations Subcommittee to tell legislators where the money was going. We have to ask “Why?”

What we know is this — Rep. Mickey Channell, an acknowledged expert on the Medicaid budget, has worked very closely with the Department of Community Health to put together a responsible answer to the governor’s budget proposal. It relies on this sound principle — use health care stimulus dollars for health care purposes — and it takes care of Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens — the aged, blind, disabled and children living in poverty — in a manner that is responsible, fair and balanced.  In these uncertain times, there could be no higher calling.

That’s why we call on our colleagues in the Senate to do the right thing — adopt the House version of the DCH budget and send a message to the people of Georgia. Our budget process should not be a game — it should truly reflect the fairness, balance and transparency our governor so often espouses.

Sen. Robert Brown is the Senate Democratic Leader and represents the 26th District in the state Senate.  
Sen. Tim Golden is chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus and represents the 8th District in the state Senate.