Murkowski budget cuts not as devastating as many have predicted What others say Predictions that Gov. Frank Murkowski's cuts to health and social service budgets ''will hurt people'' are in the words of Mark Twain about reports of his death greatly exaggerated.

Posted: Wednesday, July 02, 2003

The largest cut in that area was the expected elimination of $45 million in longevity bonus payments, which may be painful to recipients but was no surprise.

Other reductions in the $1.7 billion budget for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services amount to just $10 million or six-tenths of one percent of the department's total budget. Half of that $5 million was in overhead and administrative spending, very little of it in the budgets of field people who actually deliver the services.

Elimination of the longevity bonus was forecast earlier when Murkowski revealed he had decided that the payments were inappropriate because they were paid to some seniors and not others, without regard to need.

On paper the vetoes of HSS spending items look like much more $72 million in addition to the longevity payments but the bulk of the total amounted to refinancing of $55 million in Medicaid payments. Each dollar eliminated in Medicaid grants was replaced by a federal dollar, with zero impact on recipients.

The rest of the $72 million included $11.3 million in Medicaid cost containment achieved with measures like using an approved drug list and new approaches on contracting with suppliers and $5.1 million in reducing overhead costs and administrative staff positions through reorganization.

Some small health and social service programs were eliminated. Those like drug and alcohol treatment centers in Kodiak and Barrow were programs that the department decided were underutilized or not working as intended.

HSS staffing cuts should not impact service recipients. Among those measures was combining the Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse with the mental health component of the Division of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. The merged agency will be known as the Division of Behavioral Health.

That change was made since the two agencies served essentially the same people. The behavioral health approach to service delivery is recommended by many experts in the field and endorsed by the federal government.

The list of such cuts and changes goes on and on.

The possibility exists that some local communities may reduce their support of health and social service agencies because of revenue sharing cuts. But most local governments are expected to minimize impacts to those agencies.

So the real casualty list from the health and social services budget cuts consists of longevity bonus recipients and state employees whose jobs are eliminated.

The Voice of the (Anchorage) Times - June 23

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