O’Bannon Details Healthcare Budget

VA HouseGOPBudget, Featured, Issues

Del. John M. O’Bannon, III, MD (R-Henrico), addressed the House to explain the healthcare provisions of the House budget. O’Bannon noted the improvements in home and community-based care over Gov. Kaine’s budget, as well as explaining the prudent use of one-time federal funds for non-recurring items in contrast to the Senate’s approach that will create structural imbalances in future budgets.

Check out O’Bannon’s speech on YouTube.

The transcript of his speech follows:

Mr. Speaker, I don’t get up very often, but I would like today to take just a minute or two to talk to the body about the House budget and the health care portions of it.

Mr. Speaker, being on the Appropriations Committee this year has been a bit of a challenge. We’ve listened carefully to the citizens and advocates. We’ve attended public hearings all over the state, including a six-hour session here the Monday before session began. We heard eloquent testimony about the importance of the healthcare safety net, and the valuable role that home care services play for our disabled citizens.

Mr. Speaker, we then had the challenge of balancing our budget within the limitations brought on by an ongoing recession. We also had to respect the will of the citizens of Virginia who voted for a new Governor who ran on a platform of not raising taxes on the citizens of Virginia. Subsequent to that, both bodies of this Assembly have confirmed that we will continue to offer car tax relief and will not enact a general tax increase.

I’ve patiently listened to members from the other side of the aisle—folks that I respect a lot—the gentleman from Arlington, Mr. Hope, the gentleman from Fairfax, Mr. Plum—I’ve heard them stand and lament the cuts that we’ve been required to make to accomplish a balanced budget this session. Disappointingly, Mr. Speaker, none of those speeches was accompanied by recommendations as to where we might get funds from other parts of the budget to make things balance.

Mr. Speaker, one thing I’ve learned down here is that the needs of our Commonwealth are endless, but the resources of our Commonwealth are not—they are finite. And they are a little less this year than they have been.

What we’ve had to do this year is to make those very difficult decisions to allow us to produce a balanced budget. And, one that’s based on realistic revenues and not funny money.

While here, we all deal with the advocates who are so passionate about their causes. But those who elected us to come here—to balance the budget, to complete our work on time, and not to raise their taxes—don’t have so many lobbyists or folks walking the halls down here. We have to stand up for them.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud of our House Health and Human Resources budget. We tried to treat everyone fairly. We tried to listen to the advocates. But, we did not accept some of the recommendations of former Gov. Kaine, such as freezes to the home and community-based waivers. Those are the things that keep folks in their own home and away from institutions.

We did not take recommendations to freeze the FAMIS program. That’s the program for the children of low-income families. We did listen to the advocates and chose to lower the eligibility criteria slightly for the FAMIS program, allowing 3,306 elderly and disabled citizens access to the waiver program. And it will allow new enrollees into the FAMIS program to get care.

We did restore funding for in-patient adolescent/child psychiatric beds.

We were forced to cut some funding for hospitals providers, but we were careful to protect critical access hospitals in rural areas and teaching hospitals.

We did equalize funding for worthy programs like CHIP of Virginia and the Healthy Families program from the private sector.

Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, we were able to add 178 new Medicaid Waiver slots for the biennium. That continues our House’s strong commitment to provide support for the most vulnerable citizens among us.

Mr. Speaker, we also have budget language that provides for restoration of cuts to the FAMIS program should we realize additional FMAP funding. I’m sure everyone knows what FMAP is. FMAP is the federal medical assistance percentage. That’s the money that we get from Washington, the Federal government has passed 60 cents for every 50 cents.

But, I do want to say a word about that money. This is funding to the states that recognizes the extraordinary growth of Medicaid budgets from state to state. It’s provided to the states to help them deal with this growth.

Although there are no statutory obligations to spend every dollar of that on health care, there are statutory obligations to not reduce eligibility requirements and we will certainly honor that. What you may not know is that 44 states have used that enhanced FMAP funding to the bottom line to help them balance their budgets.

In that regard, let me just say one thing about the other body’s budget. I believe that they have transferred most of the necessary cuts into the second year of the biennium and they’ve used the FMAP money to try to backfill that. That’s not a responsible action to take if you place a high priority on developing a structurally balanced budget going forward. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, given this economy, that could be a recipe for disaster. It takes one-time funds, one-time money and uses it for operations and ongoing expenses, rather than for non-recurring expenses. The House plan does not do that.

You’ve all heard about the cliff. Well, the cliff in the other body’s budget is higher and steeper because of the way they treated that money.

If there are any lessons from the ARRA/federal stimulus money that we’ve already got, it’s that localities that used that money for one-time, non-recurring expenses have fared a lot better. And localities that didn’t do that are the ones facing the big layoffs. That’s why you see some of the FMAP in our budget used for one-time expenses.

In summary, Mr. Speaker, I’m proud of the House health budget. I don’t like it, but I think we’ve done our job. I think the conferees will make it better and I look forward to getting the conference report back, and voting for it and getting out of here on time.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.