Health providers brace for cuts in Medicaid benefits - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Health providers brace for cuts in Medicaid benefits

John Myhre John Myhre
Richard Bettini Richard Bettini

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

WAIANAE (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state on Tuesday announced cuts in Medicaid benefits that will affect many low-income residents in Hawaii.

The Department of Human Services says the move will save the state $75 million over the next two years. But those who provide health services to Hawaii's poor are bracing for tough times.

Of the total number of patients the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center treats each year, more than half -- about 16,000 -- rely on Medicaid. Officials at the facility say they're deeply concerned about the program cuts announced by the state Tuesday morning.

"I really don't know what we're going to do to be honest," John Myhre, the center's behavioral health director, said. "What folks downtown don't realize is that folks over here are under extreme poverty, extreme duress."

The state says it has seen a 26% enrollment increase in Medicaid from June 2008 to December 2010. Faced with a shrinking budget, the state says it will have to tighten eligibility requirements and eliminate an estimated 4,500 people from the system.

At the WCCHC, officials say about 425 patients will lose medical coverage as a result.

"Folks will end up going to the hospital and whatever is basically saved in the way of insurance is going to be quickly devoured in the way of hospital costs," Myhre said.

The state also plans to cap the number of outpatient doctor visits to 20 per year. WCCHC officials say 85% of their clients affected by that move are behavioral health patients.

"So patients that have comorbidity medical issues and mental health issues," Richard Bettini, the center's chief executive officer, explained. "So we're either going to have to look at that population and say where else can they get mental health services or redesign the way we do this."

From patients with no coverage to a reduction in drug benefits, Bettini says his medical facility is looking at a $1 million revenue loss right out of the gates.

"We're not going to turn people away," Bettini said. "The question is how do we stay fiscally responsible in doing so, how do we push issues with the state that shows them that we're not really capturing fair value with these cuts."

The state says its strategy is to focus on the neediest, increase program integrity and improve efficiency.

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