Virginia delegates warn of cuts to health care safety net

Posted at 8:56 AM, Jan 24, 2012
and last updated 2012-02-23 15:03:36-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Millions of dollars in aid for vital health care services are on the chopping block if Gov. Bob McDonnell's buget proposal passes as is.

At a news conference in Richmond this morning, Del. Bob Brink (D-Arlington), member of the House Appropriations Committee and the Joint Commission on Health  Care, outlined the eroding support for what several members of the Democratic Caucus call "vital safety net services" in the proposed budget.

Brink said nearly $5.4 million in cuts would affect thousands of Virginia's uninsured and under-insured families.

According to the JCHC, 50,000 more people looked for care at free clinics and other reduced-cost health services over the past two years because of the recession.

As part of Gov. McDonnell's budget, those cuts would affect rural dental centers, free medical clinics and early intervention AIDS counseling programs.

The governor wants to give a boost to the state's retirement system, divert more funding for transportation and ramp up spending for public education over the next two years.

But the JCHC says those things should not come at the expense of Virginia's poor.

Del. Brink said, ironically, the governor's budget cuts to these health safety net programs is based on a projection that the money would be made up by federal funds coming from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2014.

That's a federal health plan the republicans have nicknamed "Obama Care, a plan the governor himself is opposed to.

"Given all the uncertainty in what the Supreme Court will do with health care reform and when they'll do it," said Brink. "Not to mention where the economy is going both in Virginia and the nation, the proposal to slash Virginia's health care safety net is nothing short of reckless."

State budgets are made on forecasts of federal money coming into the state, but that sometimes must be tempered by the possibility of losses.

For instance, if the Department of Defense orders mandatory defense cuts, that could mean a lot less money for Virginia's Navy bases and the surrounding communities.

The governor's budget provides for a bigger "rainy day fund" to address those possible losses of revenue, but delegate Brink calls the health care cuts "a priority issue".

If cuts are made now, said Brink, it could mean more money spent on sick and injured Virginians down the road if they can't get the medical care they need.