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Miscalculation boosts DHS budget

The state Department of Human Services avoids &

36;120 million in cuts it expected after Measure 30

Dire cuts predicted for health services have been mostly averted because the state has found almost &

36;120 million more than expected in its budget.

The money makes up the bulk of the &

36;179 million in reductions that the Department of Human Services anticipated from the failure of Measure 30 in February.

The extra money, however, will not alleviate the drastic cuts the department already has made, officials said.

Cindy Becker, deputy director for the department, said the miscalculation is the result of incorrect assumptions of the savings the department would derive from previous reductions in the Oregon Health Plan and other services.

— These assumptions were also analyzed by the Legislature, she said.

The assumptions were vetted, and we were wrong, said Becker.

Becker said the miscalculation is good news for many Oregonians who were expecting more reductions in the OHP. But it won't restore the budget cuts that caused enrollment under the plan that covers poor families to plummet from 89,000 last year to 45,000 today.

In July 2001, 8,111 people were on the program in Jackson County, but today the number is 2,600.

Becker said her department wasn't trying to hide anything, but agreed this will give conservatives more ammunition to say the money was there all along.

It becomes a credibility issue for the government, she said.

Local health administrators who had also predicted drastic cuts as a result of the failure of Measure 30 are left wondering how the budget picture could have changed in such a short time.

I marvel at how the Department of Human Services found money here and found money there to avert the cuts they were predicting would happen, said Hank Collins, the county's director of health and human services.

Earlier his department expected dramatic reductions in pharmaceutical, mental health and drug dependency coverage to low-income pregnant women and people who receive federal supplemental security benefits because they are blind, elderly or have disabilities.

Now we're not going to do any of that, said Collins.

Central Point Rep. Dennis Richardson accused the government agency of concealing the money to better the chances of passing Measure 30.

Those that wanted it to pass were using fear tactics, said Richardson, a Republican. This further distances the public and their elected officials.

In January, he said he received a human services readout that indicated the department had found at least &

36;90 million in savings. Richardson said this was not announced to the public.

He said this is a repeat of what has happened in the past, where the government bolsters its claims that it needs more money.

After the tax increase goes down, the bureaucracy finds the money they said didn't exist, he said.

Richardson has hired Jacksonville resident Jim Ray, a retired medical administrative assistant and medical consultant, as his &

36;1,500-a-month legislative assistant to analyze the funding of the human services department.

Ashland Rep. Alan Bates, a Democrat, said the human services department's miscalculation will give voters the wrong impression.

This thing is being presented like Measure 30 has failed and everything is OK, he said.

Many Oregonians, he said, think they've escaped paying more taxes, but what they don't know is that they will end up paying more for health insurance.

Hospitals will end up seeing more emergency patients that would have previously used the Oregon Health Plan because hospitals are required by law to treat anyone who comes to the emergency room. The extra costs will eventually be passed on through increases in premiums, he said.

Providence Medford Medical Center confirmed that the number of uninsured patients had increased significantly last year compared to 2002. Overall the hospital paid &

36;4 million more for uninsured patients in 2003.

The most significant increase is in the number of patients with disabilities, who lost their coverage through the Oregon Health Plan, said Kathy Fahr, ER case manager for Providence.

At Rogue Valley Medical Center, charity care has grown rapidly during the past five months. The hospital provided &

36;6.5 million in charity care for the budget year 2002-2003. For the first five months of the 2003-2004 budget year, the hospital provided &

36;3.9 million. If that pace continues over the next seven months, RVMC's charity care will total &

36;9.6 million.

There are only so many dollars the institutions can absorb, Becker said. The rest will be made up through premiums.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail