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TribBlog: Hazardous to Our Health?

Doctors, patients, non-profits, and industry leaders lined up to testify today before the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Their message: Texans cannot afford any more cuts.

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A standing-room-only crowd of health care advocates and providers implored the Texas Health and Human Services Commission today not to slash already threadbare services, despite state leaders' call for all agencies to cut 5 percent of their budgets to protect the state's "short-term economic future."

As the line to speak at the public hearing twisted out the door, nearly 80 industry leaders, representatives of non-profit groups, doctors and patients waited hours to testify. Their concerns ran the gamut, from outrage against proposed Medicaid provider rate reductions to concerns that mental health needs would be ignored. “Health and Human Services are already woefully underfunded,” said Jane Burstain, an analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Cuts Texas health agencies are considering include a delay in the implementation of the Medicaid Buy-In for Children, which would help sick or disabled kids; a reduction in trauma funds; and the elimination of 200 beds and 420 full-time employees at four mental health hospitals: the Rusk, North Texas, San Antonio and Terrell state facilities. The proposed budget reductions also include a 1 or 2 percent rate reduction for Medicaid providers working with acute care adults and in long-term care residential settings.

Colleen Horton, a spokeswoman for the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, said she had come to plead for the expedient implementation of the Medicaid Buy-In program. “I am asking you to do everything humanly possible to implement the plan this calendar year,” Horton told the commission.

David Thomason, who represents the Texas Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, said any reduction to already low Medicaid nursing home rates would be dangerous. “These cuts would jeopardize the quality of care where it is needed,” he said.

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