By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – More than 6,600 parents and adults on RIte Care health insurance were spared the budget-cutting axe by the House Finance Committee in the House’s proposed fiscal 2012 budget, after numbers used in a House staff report attempting to portray Rhode Island as more generous than its neighboring states were found to be inaccurate.
If the House Finance Committee had made those cuts, which would have saved about $6 million in fiscal 2012, according to Linda Katz, policy director at the Poverty Institute. But, it would also have put in jeopardy more than $20 million in federal Medicaid funds affecting 20 Rhode Island programs, according to Secretary Steven M. Costantino of the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services. It was a move that Katz called “penny wise and pound foolish.”
Sen. Sheldon D. Whitehouse’s office said that it was unaware of any outreach or contact from Costantino’s office regarding the potential implications of losing $20 million in federal funding.
Costantino, whose office prepared a detailed 16-page memo in March, entitled “Health and Human Services Eligibility and Service Fact Book,” originally at the behest by the House Minority Caucus, said that the original numbers in his agency’s report were accurate.
There was an “economic-development component” to the strategy of comparing Rhode Island to its neighboring states, Costantino continued. “We wanted to know what’s our health system looks like, compared to Massachusetts,” he said, explaining the strategy. “We wanted to use that approach on the expenditures for health and human services. We compete [with Massachusetts] in various ways.”
When asked if there was a regional approach, rather than a competitive approach, which would make more sense in the delivery of health care services, Costantino said: “Quite frankly, we can’t get dentists who will take Medicaid patients, because of our [low] rates; Massachusetts can’t either.” Perhaps, he continued, “it is something we can do regionally.”
Included in the report was a six-page legal memo prepared on March 29 by Burns & Associates Inc., based in Phoenix, about whether “the Rhode Island definition of developmental disabilities is more liberal” than neighboring states. Costantino’s office, however, did not respond to questions about the cost of the legal memo, what funds were used to pay for it, and why an out-of-state legal firm was hired.
“Ultimately, you want people to make decisions based on the right information,” Costantino said, addressing the problem of the inaccurate numbers.