Bertie tops state in wrong places

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 2, 2007

WINDSOR – Bertie is number one!

Unfortunately, it’s a top billing they would much rather live without.

The state’s Division of Medical Assistance has released its Medicaid projections for the 2007-08 budget year set to begin July 1. Barring any relief from the state, North Carolina county governments can expect their combined share of the fast-growing Medicaid bill to top a half-billion dollars.

Todd McGee of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners said if tradition holds true where the counties pay 15 percent of the state’s Medicaid program services share in 2007-08, those costs are projected to come in at more than $517 million, an increase of $91 million based upon 2005-06 costs.

In a decade that has seen Medicaid services costs nearly double since 2000, this comes as bad news for Bertie County.

Currently, Bertie County government officials have $2.30 million budgeted for Medicaid services this year. The projected number for the 2007-08 budget year is $2.68 million, an increase of $385,912.

That hike means Bertie County will spend $136.93 per capita in 2007-08 to pay its Medicaid bill. That ranks the county number one statewide in that Medicaid category.

“This is an unfunded mandate we have no control over,” Rick Harrell, Chairman of the Bertie Board of Commissioners, said.

To satisfy that mandate, Bertie County is forced to commit more money annually to Medicaid than its school system. Bertie is one of only six counties statewide (joining Graham, Halifax, Robeson, Swain and Washington) where Medicaid expenses exceed both current funds and capital funds for public schools.

“All you have to do is look at nice school systems and school facilities in the more affluent areas of the state and then look closely at how low their Medicaid burden is,” Harrell observed. “Just think of what we could do here in Bertie County, with our schools and other countywide services, if we didn’t have to keep committing taxpayer’s money just to keep up with rising Medicaid costs.”

To prove how much Bertie County is forced to commit to Medicaid, one only needs to look at the line item concerning county budget. Bertie’s current budget stands at $18.11 million of which the county must commit 14.2 percent of those funds just to cover its share of Medicaid expenses. That percentage also ranks the county number one in the state.

Bertie County is also tied (with Robeson) at number one statewide in another Medicaid category. Both counties commit 33 percent of every property tax dollar to cover Medicaid expenses.

Meanwhile, Hertford County’s Medicaid expenses for 2007-08 are projected to increase by $673,419. Currently, Hertford County budgets $2.177 million for Medicaid. That figure is estimated to stand at $2.85 million beginning July 1.

In per capita spending ($119.45), Hertford ranks sixth in the state. They are ranked as the fifth-leading county in the terms of the percentage (11.1% of a $22.6 million budget) needed to pay for Medicaid services. Twenty-two cents of every property tax dollar goes to Medicaid in Hertford, ranking the county in a tie for sixth in that category.