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BUDGET ISSUES State cuts assistance plan



Published: Sat, February 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



About 30,000 Ohioans received Disability Medical Assistance in July 2003.

COLUMBUS (AP) -- The state is ending a program that paid for medicines and treatment for homeless and extremely poor Ohioans with chronic health conditions such as heart problems, diabetes or mental illness.

Disability Medical Assistance is a $73 million state effort designed to bridge the gap while people await approval for Medicaid, Social Security or other benefits. Income guidelines mean a single person would have to earn less than $115 a month to qualify.

Gov. Bob Taft warned agencies he'll be cutting many services in the two-year state budget plan he releases Thursday. State lawmakers have until the end of June to pass a budget that fills an anticipated deficit of up to $5 billion.

Other cuts could include stricter eligibility requirements for adults to qualify for Medicaid, lower Medicaid payments to nursing homes and less money for pollution enforcement, industry and agency leaders have said.

But the disability program is being cut early. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services filed paperwork last week enabling Taft to sign an emergency order to dissolve it.

As of March 1, people receiving benefits could not be renewed. New enrollment already ended after August.

Cutting the program now would save about $4 million in the budget ending June 30, plus the full program cost in the next year.

No Medical care

"I'm absolutely panic-stricken," said Judith Austin, 55, of Columbus, whose two heart surgeries were covered by disability assistance at a cost of $372,000. "I have no medical care again. I have no clue what I'm going to do. This could cost me my life."

Taft spokesman Mark Rickel said the state can no longer afford the aid.

"This budget is going to be extremely tight and will require some very difficult decisions," Rickel said. "With increasing demands on our budget for Medicaid, we're left with fewer options in the programs we're able to support."

Job and Family Services Director Barbara Riley said in a Jan. 31 memo that the cut will have serious consequences for many Ohioans and will increase the demand on other social service and health care safety nets, which are already severely strained.

Some recipients are homeless, recently released from prison, jobless or working in temporary positions. Some require insulin for diabetes or prescription drugs for mental illness.

"You're talking about the most vulnerable of vulnerable populations," said Gayle Channing Tenenbaum, of the Public Children's Services Association of Ohio. "This points out that the state of Ohio has to do something significant on tax reform and put together a permanent revenue stream to support families and vulnerable populations."

About 30,000 Ohioans were receiving Disability Medical Assistance in July 2003. The last state budget capped the cost at $101 million, narrowed eligibility criteria and empowered the governor to freeze enrollment. Several freezes ultimately shaved $24 million from the authorized cost.

The Ohio Family Coverage Coalition, a consumer-health advocacy group, said the cutbacks may be illegal.

Col Owens, a Cincinnati lawyer and co-chairman of the coalition, said the General Assembly capped program funding for 2004-05 but did not authorize the governor or the agency to shut it down altogether.




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