augusta free press news

Ken Plum: Virginia’s Forgotten

Column by Ken Plum

We had a wind-up Victrola at home when I was growing up. It was a handed-down piece of furniture rather than a serious music-making machine. A few cranks on the handle on the side, lift the arm and put the needle in the beginning track on the 78 rpm vinyl record, and music would come out of the ornate wooden box with the fancy top. Particularly funny to us as youngsters was the time when the needle would get to the scratch in the record, and it would keep repeating itself. A little tap and the needle would get past the scratch for at least one more revolution.

Sometimes I am reminded of the stuck needle on the Victrola when I am writing my weekly column. I return to some topics quite often, with the state budget being one of them. How we spend our money says a lot about our priorities and our values. In recent columns I have warned of the questionable decision we made by balancing our budget with federal dollars we expected that the Congress would provide but had not done so. It now seems fairly clear that the more than $450 million in Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) we counted on will not be coming from the federal government.

Earlier this year 48 governors, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, asked the Congress to appropriate nearly $25 billion to the states. With the growing federal deficit, members of Congress, particularly those facing reelection campaigns, are showing no willingness to go forward with the approval of the FMAP monies. There is no money in the package for Wall Street or Main Street; just money for the forgotten Virginians. Gov. McDonnell has withdrawn his support for the federal monies.

That leaves the Virginia budget out of balance by a number approaching nearly a half-billion dollars except that the programs to which these dollars would have flowed have reductions built in. Providers of health care services primarily for the aged will receive 3 percent less in 2011 and 4 percent less in 2012. This does not sound like a very big cut until you realize that current reimbursement covers just 90 percent of Medicaid patients in nursing homes and 70 percent in hospitals. The result is that Medicaid providers often have to saddle other patients with the rest of the cost. About 30,000 poor children and hundreds of pregnant women will be denied care as eligibility requirements are tightened. About 16,000 aged, blind, and disabled persons will lose benefits as the eligibility requirements change.

A question remains as to whether the federal guidelines will permit cuts in services of this magnitude. That issue must be resolved with federal authorities. Whether the General Assembly will need to go into special session remains to be determined. We need to be like that old Victrola and continue to repeat our support for Virginia’s forgotten.