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Monday, June 12, 2006


Who is this guy's source? Paul Rolly focuses beyond the election-year hype and provides his readers with a surprisingly accurate analysis of the unfolding Medicaid Dental story.



Anonymous Indiana Jones said...

Since Trib articles disappear from their site, somebody oughta preserve this article for posterity. Might as well stick it here....

Rolly: Dental care cuts: Legislature, governor point fingers
By Paul Rolly
Tribune Columnist

This is a story about Utah's Republican Legislature bickering with Utah's Republican governor over a problem created by the policies of Republican President George W. Bush.
And an analysis of this problem might help to explain why a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages suddenly has emerged as the number one issue among Republican politicians.
A diversionary tactic.
The Legislature has been pilloried in public dialogue for refusing to consider a $2 million request Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. made during the recent special session to provide dental coverage for the elderly poor and disabled on Medicaid.
Two factors turned the outrage into a lynch-mob mentality: The Legislature approved $15 million for an underground parking garage at the Capitol at the same time it denied the health benefits to the poor, and State Medicaid Director Michael Hales said recently the Utah Health Department would not restore the benefits on its own for fear of retribution by legislators protective of their budgeting turf.
But legislators say the public lashing is unfair. They say the failure to fund the dental and vision coverage resulted from poor communication from the governor's office, which kept sending mixed messages to lawmakers from the time of the general legislative session in January right up to the opening of the special session in May.
During the general session, the lawmakers say, the dental and vision coverage was a low priority on the governor's wish list. The top priority was taking care of disabled Utahns who were on a lengthy waiting list for state services. The Legislature did that and made up a $30 million shortfall in the Medicaid budget, largely caused by cutbacks in federal matching funds. But the Legislature didn't cover all the requests, including the specific dental and vision care, which was budgeted at $4.6 million for 65,000 recipients.
Then, before the special session, the governor asked for $2 million in emergency funding for a smaller group of blind, disabled and aged, part of the same request that had been lower on the priority list during the general session.
But the group identified for the special session funding had only required a $400,000 appropriation for the same benefits the year before, the legislators say, and the governor's office never explained why a benefit that cost $400,000 last year would cost $2 million this year.
That misunderstanding was not the governor's fault, says Hales of the Medicaid office. The legislators confused an earlier assessment of what it would cost in emergency room services for dental care - $400,000 - if dental coverage was not funded.
The legislators also complained that the governor sent confusing messages about the source of the funding for the emergency coverage. The governor got Sen. Peter Knudsen, R-Brigham City, to open a bill file for the special session with the understanding that existing funds within the Health Department would cover the benefits. The next day, however, the governor's office communicated that it would be done with new money, rather than existing departmental funds.
The following day, the governor's office again switched the message, saying it would come from on-going revenue. So Knudsen withdrew his sponsorship of the bill. On the opening day of the special session, the governor's office changed the funding source again, saying it would come from savings to the state with the switch to the Medicare Part D program. But legislators say that meant compromising a fund that will be needed for a future Medicaid shortfall projected to be about $6 million.
That's when the Senate took the whole issue off the table and became the ogres to needy Utahns who will be left without dental and vision coverage.
Mike Mower of the governor's office says Huntsman was clear from the end of the general session that he was disappointed that Medicaid dental and vision care were not covered. He said the session ended with cash still available and he felt all his priorities should have been met.
Mower said the governor's staff may have sent confusing messages to lawmakers because they hoped to provide the needed coverage within the ongoing budget. The governor put the issue on the special session call without first securing the approval of the Legislature because he was willing to spend some political capital to do what he considered the right thing, Mower said. Now the governor and Legislature both have spent some political capital.
Whether the fact that thousands of needy people will have no dental coverage is the fault of the governor or the Legislature, one thing remains clear. Pressures like these continue to haunt state and local governments which now shoulder the burden of President Bush's tax cuts.

6/12/2006 5:42 PM  

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