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Published: Friday, 11/23/2007

Gardner says he feels betrayed by delay in Medicaid-payment hike

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - State Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) felt a bit betrayed by Gov. Ted Strickland's decision this week to indefinitely delay January's planned increase in Medicaid payments for hospitals and doctors.

The senator said he had proposed an amendment during last spring's budget debate that would have provided an even larger rate increase, but he acquiesced after being assured by the Strickland administration that it was already in the works.

"It was like tomato sauce. It's in there," he said. "Now they're not even getting the 3 percent."

The administration has cited Ohio's lagging economy and higher-than-expected Medicaid case load for its decision to indefinitely put off the increase for hospitals, doctors, and in-home care providers.

The hike would have cost the joint federal-state health insurance program of last resort about $50 million.

The administration has also delayed plans to fully restore dental services for low-income adults that had been cut under Gov. Bob Taft's administration. Restoration of services carried a price tag of $15 million.

In both cases, the spending was included in Mr. Strickland's general executive budget plan, so lawmakers didn't feel the need to specifically write them into budget law.

The budget passed by a near-unanimous vote.

"Had I known this, the budget deliberation would have been a lot different," said Mr. Gardner. "I would have pressed even harder. A lot of these types of issues are in the statute."

Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey said the governor is not worried about whether the GOP-controlled General Assembly will be less likely to leave such decisions to his discretion.

"The governor is going to keep his promise to live within our means," he said. "For three consecutive months, the Medicaid case load is exceeding projections. Because of that, coupled with the reality that the economy continues to be challenging, the governor believes the prudent course of action currently is to delay the scheduled expenditure from occurring in January."

The administration will revisit the issue as it re-evaluates its budget forecast next month.

Through the first four months of the fiscal year, general tax collections have been largely on target with projections. But spending was $117.7 million, or 1.2 percent, higher than expected. Higher Medicaid caseloads helped to fuel that.

David Oswiany, executive director of the Ohio Dental Association, said he isn't optimistic the full restoration of adult dental services will proceed as originally expected following the new December projections.

"The House and Senate passed budget bills assuming there was funding for fully funded adult dental services," he said.

"The administration had actually proposed rules that essentially outlined the restoration. We even commended the administration for living up to its promise."

Mr. Strickland's budget cutbacks occur as lawmakers move toward additional tax cuts.

The House recently passed a bill to exempt military pensions from income taxes, a move that would cost nearly $30 million.

"There was no fat in that budget," the governor said recently.

"We did not build in extra money that could be used for other causes, even very good causes. I support what has been proposed. I am just simply asking that it be paid for."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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