We need some relief

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 22, 2006

R-C News-Herald Editorial

In the budget amendment ordinance submitted to the Hertford County Board of Commissioners Monday night, county Finance Officer Robbin Stephenson submitted documentation that indicated the county would have to appropriate $192,128 to cover the increased cost of Medicaid to the county.

During that same meeting, Commissioner Dupont Davis informed the board and citizens in attendance that the North Carolina House of Representatives had promised the N.C. Association of County Managers that a new budget proposal introduced by that legislative body would allow for a total of $53 million to assist counties in covering the costs of Medicaid assistance for their citizens.

Why is all of this necessary? Because North Carolina is the only state that regularly forces its counties to share in Medicaid expenses.

County managers and health officials are tasked with trying to maintain fiscal responsibility, especially in some of the state’s economically impoverished regions where the population base continues to rise more rapidly than commercial growth.

While that challenge is daunting enough, the state and federal governments do not allow the counties to make any decisions concerning eligibility, services and reimbursement rates involving Medicaid.

The end result is that many county managers are forced to increase the base tax rate or siphon funds from other programs in order to pay for Medicaid costs. Many times it is the school system or some other county service that is forced to absorb the financial strain that the state’s Medicaid policy imposes on its local municipalities.

Hertford County Manager Loria Williams and Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins both urged their respective board of commissioners and county citizens to lobby our local politicians to acknowledge the precarious position that the state has placed its local governments in.

To this point the light at the end of the tunnel is dim at best.

When the General Assembly convened on May 9, the Senate had offered no evidence that Medicaid relief was going to be part of their budget proposal.

The Association of County Managers immediately sprung into action and a couple of hundred officials from local governments descended on Raleigh in attempt to bring this financial quandary to a favorable result. After all the state did report a $2.4 billion dollar surplus in this year’s finance report (that’s billion with a &uot;b&uot;).

What did the county officials get for their efforts? Not much at all.

While House leaders appeared to be committed to some sort of relief package, the Senate did not budge from its position. What is needed is a comprehensive revamping of the state’s position on Medicaid expenses and the management of its services.

Several state level politicians have indicated they would like direct any budget surpluses toward economically deprived school districts. Yet the fact that the state still forces local governments to pay for Medicaid services without giving them any ability to manage the system internally means that county managers statewide will still be forced to either raise taxes or redirect funding from other vital services.

North Carolina is one of the most popular destinations for immigrants coming to the United States. The abundance of agricultural jobs is obviously a big draw for any under trained workforce.

So as the Federal government prepares to legalize tens of thousands of immigrants, our state government is forcing local counties to pay for Medicaid costs that will only increase exponentially with the population explosion.

Of course that means counties will allocate revenue intended for school growth, and then be forced to lobby the General Assembly for education relief next. This cycle of fiscal irresponsibility on the part of the state borders on absurdity.

If the state is not going to allow counties to implement their own guidelines for Medicaid eligibility and services then they should pay for their own program.