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Public health programs facing cuts

4:31 pm March 22nd, 2013

Some Pierce County health services may be trimmed or shut down by federal budget cuts.
Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is facing a budget cut of more than $1.6 million because of Title XIX Medicaid Administrative Match federal funding formula changes. The funding reimburses the department for services it provides to low-income people on Medicaid.
Department officials said they’ve been told the funding will be cut to half of the former match, and the change is retroactive to July 2012. As a result, 20 or more positions in maternal child health and community programs could be eliminated or have their hours cut back, and health centers might be closed, officials said.
“This is a painful process,” said Dr. Anthony L-T Chen, the department’s director. “Staff tirelessly negotiated with the state and federal government for a year, developed contingency plans, and made difficult decisions. Those who will be impacted do important work in our community as we work to safeguard and enhance the health of our residents. Under different circumstances, we would make different decisions.”
Chen said the loss of funding could result in the closure of up to seven Family Support Centers, which serve 38,000 people throughout Pierce County by connecting them with parenting services, healthcare-related serves for children, home nurse visiting and other resources.
One of the centers is operated in a partnership with Bethel School District. A district spokeswoman had no immediate information last week on the impact within the district if the center closes.
While final program and staff changes would not occur until May 1, the Health Department is in the process of working through details regarding the extent of impacts, officials said.
On March 4, department leaders met with staff members whose positions may be impacted, as well as community partners that operate Family Support Centers.
“We don’t yet know which family support centers may close,” said Edie Jeffers, a spokeswoman for the Health Department. “We know whatever decision we make will reduce services to people who need them.”
In addition to the Bethel School District, agencies that run centers include Pierce County Community Connections, Children’s Home Society, Catholic Community Services, Centro Latino, Orting School District, Hope Sparks, and MultiCare Health System.
The county’s Board of Health will review a budget amendment and consider possible scenarios to absorb the cuts at its March 20 study session. The Board will hear public testimony and take vote on the budget amendment, which includes accepting the $1.6 million reduction, at its April 3 regular meeting.
The Health Department funding reduction is part of a $8.5 million statewide cut, which will impact local health jurisdictions. This funding cut is separate and distinct from any future federal funding cuts that may occur as a result of the sequester. 
The funding formula changes will impact state and local governments and their subcontractors that claim reimbursement for administrative activities associated with the state’s Medicaid program. The federal government pays a minimum of 50 percent of the cost of performing these activities on behalf of the Medicaid population. The state or local government pays the rest.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, manages the Title XIX Medicaid Administrative Match program.

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