05/04/06 — County says Medicaid will cost millions

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County says Medicaid will cost millions

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 4, 2006 1:51 PM

Medicaid will cost Wayne County taxpayers about $7.5 million next year, and local officials are trying to figure out a way to lessen the burden on the county's coffers -- and taxpayers.

"Counties have no choice. If a person is eligible for Medicaid, we submit them, and the county has to pay their part," County Manager Lee Smith said.

Although Medicaid does provide an economic base through pharmacies and other medical outlets, the costs to cover Medicaid have increased 77 percent since 2000, Smith said. If costs continue to soar, the commissioners could have to make tough decisions.

"Down the road, it might be up to the commissioners to decide who gets Medicaid or not," he said.

Wayne County's Board of Commissioners held a work session following Tuesday's board meeting to discuss the issue. The board has also met with regional legislators to discuss options and solutions to the Medicaid problem.

The commissioners are seeking legislation to implement a six-year phaseout of county funding for Medicaid. The first year of the plan would cap county costs equal to levels during the 2004-05 fiscal year. Then, the plan would provide relief through state financial assistance to counties with a large percentage of eligible Medicaid recipients.

About 22 percent of Wayne County residents were eligible for Medicaid in 2004, and that number is expected to increase in the coming years, Smith said.

The North Carolina House of Representatives Select Committee on Health Care approved a proposal last month that would use $65 million in state Medicaid savings to provide relief for counties in the upcoming fiscal year.

About $30 million would be used to cap county Medicaid costs and remainder would be used for Medicaid relief for counties.

Smith said the commissioners should read every bill that goes through the legislature during the upcoming session, which is scheduled to open May 9, and continue to look at options for the future.

North Carolina is the only state requiring county participation in all Medicaid services ,and those counties are projected to spend about $488 million for services in 2007, Smith said.

Last year, the county spent about 9 percent of its budget toward Medicaid, which is about 13 cents on the property tax rate. In the coming year, Wayne County taxpayers can expect to spend more on Medicaid than for school facilities, Smith said.

"Some of the poorer counties have huge tax rates because of Medicaid, and we don't want Wayne County to do the same," he said.

Smith said he and the commissioners would be willing to talk to any person or group about Medicaid's effect on Wayne County and the state. Anyone with constructive ideas or concerns should call the county manager's office at 731-1435.