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Medicaid 3As state lawmakers and Gov. McCrory argue about ways to cut public outlays for Medicaid — the public health insurance system for people of low income — the lead editorials in North Carolina’s two largest newspapers offer some straightforward and compelling truths this morning that ought to guide their discussions:

1) Service cuts harm real people in need and 2)  Things ain’t gonna’ improve as long as Dr. Aldona Wos runs the show.

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reminds us, when legislators cut services to save money (even though, as the editorial notes, per person costs are down and quality of service is up) they make life hell for people like Mason Leonard and his mom Colleen:

“Mason Leonard, 14, of Cary is severely disabled. He was brain-damaged at birth and cannot care for himself. He can’t be left alone, can’t feed himself or look after any of his needs.

But thanks to a few Medicaid services, he receives therapy, gets out a little, gets trained in things like making his bed, which, when he accomplishes it, is considered a big step….

A Medicaid policy change last year, for example, eliminated weekend hours for teaching Mason how to function with basic skills. His mother understandably fears what new hardships further “reform” will produce.

Here is what the public needs to understand about the budget cutting and reform conducted under the banner of ‘efficiency.’ For each cut, for each decision to eliminate some benefit, a disabled person such as Mason Leonard or a poor person with no alternative for care except what Medicaid provides and their caregivers and family members suffer discomfort or pain.”

And then there’s this bit of plain truth from the Charlotte Observer: state Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos simply has to go. As the Observer notes: Read More

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030910_1603_HealthRefor1.jpgIn case you missed it, there’s been a very worrisome outbreak of the deadly infection known as Legionnaire’s Disease in Wilson County with at least 11 individuals contracting the disease. Unfortunately, as today’s editorial in the Wilson Times notes, the response of the North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (and its policies for notifying the public do not appear to be up to snuff):

“Since earlier in June the number of cases in Wilson went from one to 11 and from one location to more. Last year 12 percent of all the Legionnaires cases reported in the entire state of North Carolina were in Wilson County.

We commend our local Department of Health for reacting quickly to the early reported cases and getting the word out to the public as quickly as possible. Wilson Pines, where most of the cases have been linked, was also quick to take action.

However, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t seem to have responded with the same sense of urgency. It received its first confirmation of a Legionnaires’ case back on June 19 at the state-run Longleaf-Neuro Medical Treatment Center.

At that point it was just one known case there and apparently policy is to not declare an outbreak until you have two confirmed cases at one location. The state didn’t get that second report until last Friday, June 27, letting the public know via press release on Saturday.

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In a good conversation with Becki Gray yesterday on News 14 we discussed the different visions for Medicaid reform proposed in the respective budgets of the Governor, House, and Senate. In particular, Gray, who works for the John Locke Foundation, noted that the state has a “rich” benefits package in Medicaid because we offer many optional services, that is, services that are not required to be covered by the federal government. The Senate, she correctly pointed out, wants to whittle away these optional services.

Ending optional services in Medicaid is a popular policy among conservative think tanks in the state. Apparently the Senate is listening.

As this debate progresses it is important that we know what services we are talking about when we talk about optional services. Let’s review a few: transplants, prescription drugs, dentures, hospice, prosthetics. None of these treatments are frivolous or lavish.

And that’s the trouble with optional services. If you want to get at some of the more expensive options then you are limiting life-saving care. Former Locke Foundation analyst Joe Colletti even praised Arizona for cutting optional services like transplants in a report on Medicaid reform. But these cuts inflicted so much pain in Arizona that the state made a volte-face on its decision.

That brings us to the Senate budget. Among other things the Senate wants to end the optional Medically Needy program in Medicaid. This program allows people who have enormous medical expenses, but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, to apply these medical bills to their income to access Medicaid. This makes sense. If, for example, you earn $30,000 per year but need expensive drugs or nursing home care then these costs will quickly eat through your monthly income. Although you may have some money your medical needs erase it all. It’s not fair to tell this person that he or she is too wealthy for Medicaid when they effectively have nothing.

But this is exactly what the Senate aims to do.

As we have said many times before, “optional” refers to a regulatory requirement and does not mean anything about the necessity or quality of specific Medicaid services. You may call it foolish for the state to cover optional services. I call it basic human decency.

 

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Recent budget proposals out of the NCGA will eliminate Medicaid coverage for nearly 12,000 elderly blind or disabled people, cut $1 million from a popular program that delivers meals and provides in-home health services to the elderly, and shut down several regional offices of the state’s child-developmental services agencies that help babies and toddlers with disabilities.

One submission to N.C. Policy Watch’s “Your Soapbox” feature laments the difficulty in getting help even before the the proposed cuts.

I lost my insurance coverage under COBRA. I went for a year without insurance coverage. I didn’t qualify for Medicaid since I had over $2500.00 in the State Retirement system.

I had to fight tooth and nail to get help. Every way I went was a dead end. I was finally able to get help through Pender County for medical and meds.

It is a crying shame the way the poor and elderly are being treated; it’s like the legislature wants them to die.

Read the full submisson here.

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Do you have a story to tell? We want to hear more from people and their families who stand to be affected by the massive cuts proposed by our legislative leaders to Medicaid and other health and human services programs that serve the poor, disabled and elderly. What are your experiences? Tell us your story using this submission form.

To read personal stories from others affected by the cuts, click here.

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MedicaidThe following essay comes from Dr. William Dennis, President of the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians:

Senate spending plan: The wrong treatment plan for an incorrect diagnosis

As a family physician, I am trained to process and understand the symptoms my patients present for the sole purpose of making a correct diagnosis. Once the correct diagnosis is made, it becomes my imperative to develop a treatment plan that addresses the underlying health concerns, not just remedy a patient’s symptoms. Only then can I deploy the necessary healthcare resources to ensure the best possible outcomes for my patients. Successful Medicaid reform is no different.

Over the past 16 months the state’s healthcare community, working closely with the General Assembly, the Governor, the Medicaid Reform Advisory Group and representative patient advocates, have made tremendous progress in diagnosing the ills of our Medicaid system and proposing priorities for reform and continued investment.

Some of these include:

• Improved Budget Forecasting – The actual spending per Medicaid recipient has been decreasing, with overall claims spending growing at a rate lower than the growth in the number of Medicaid recipients. The most significant cause for continued cost overruns is linked to budgeting inaccuracies, not care delivery.

• Continued Investment in “Medical Homes” – Community Care of North Carolina’s (CCNC) nationally recognized platform of “medical homes” provides services and care that is better coordinated to meet the needs of each patient. They leverage technology and care management to prevent chronic disease where possible, and maintain patient course of treatment where necessary, all of which reduces costly occurrences of hospital re-admissions and unnecessary emergency room visits.

• Adoption of New Payment Mechanisms – Movement away from the current fee-for-service model that ties compensation to volume of patients seen, towards physician-led accountable care organizations that reward improved health outcomes by focusing on prevention and chronic disease management.

But last week’s Senate Spending Plan is a complete departure from this process and the progress it has yielded. Senate leadership has developed an arbitrary treatment plan for an incorrect diagnosis that will ultimately damage the healthcare system that serves all North Carolinians. Read More