Wise says health services, jobs may face cuts

March 02, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

Eastern Panhandle residents could face cuts in medical services and up to 125 people could lose their jobs in the local medical field if something is not done to increase funding for the state's Medicaid budget, Gov. Bob Wise and a City Hospital official said during a Monday morning press conference at the hospital.

Medicaid is the federal-state insurance program that pays for medical costs for the poor, the elderly and for people who do not have insurance through their employer. Local medical providers like City Hospital receive reimbursements from Medicaid for the medical services it provides to such people.

Each state determines eligibility and which health services are covered by Medicaid. The federal government reimburses a percentage of the state's expenditures.


In recent years, the number of people in West Virginia relying on Medicaid has increased from 250,000 to 300,000, and the increase is partly to blame for the financial pinch facing Medicaid, said Jon Applebaum, chief executive officer of City Hospital.

Medicaid costs for some states have risen as high as 9 percent, although West Virginia's cost increases have been a little lower, Wise said.

West Virginia's Medicaid budget is estimated to have a deficit of about $168 million.

Wise came to City Hospital to say that if the state does find more tax money to help pay for Medicaid, there could be profound effects in the Eastern Panhandle.

Wise talked about a possible 10 percent cut to Medicaid if a financial remedy is not found. If that occurs, about 125 of the approximately 1,250 employees who work in the medical field in the Eastern Panhandle could be out of jobs, Wise said.

"I think you would say, 'Bob, do something about it,'" Wise told a group of hospital officials in a conference room.

In a prepared statement handed out at the meeting, Wise said Medicaid is "vital to the future of West Virginia. If we don't get a tax increase or some other way to pay for Medicaid, there are going to be severe cuts that will significantly affect the economy of Berkeley County."

Applebaum said a reduction in medical services could occur throughout the area, although he said it was too early to tell which areas might be affected.

To increase funding for Medicaid, Wise is proposing a 20 cent tax increase on a pack of cigarettes, which would bring in about $41 million.

Applebaum said he supported the tax increase, not only because it will raise money for Medicaid, but it will help deter people from smoking.

"And in West Virginia, that's an important issue," said Applebaum, adding that West Virginia has an inordinately high smoking rate.

About $190 million of the state's Medicaid costs can be attributed to smoking-related diseases, Applebaum said.

Wise encouraged those present to contact their local state lawmakers to express their concerns about the issue. Lawmakers currently are in Charleston, W.Va., for their regular annual session, which ends in two weeks.

On a separate issue, Wise also pushed for state residents to support him in taking a lump sum from tobacco lawsuit settlements and using the money to eliminate unfunded liabilities in the state police's Trooper A retirement system, the judicial pension system and to strengthen the Workers' Compensation program and the Medical Trust Fund.

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