Washington County laments Medicaid costs

Published 6:59 am Wednesday, February 7, 2007

By Staff
Expense will ‘bust county wide open’
By DAN PARSONS, Staff Writer
PLYMOUTH— Medicaid expenses threaten to bust the budget for Washington County, some commissioners said Monday.
Medicaid drafts during the first six months of this fiscal year total $770,000 — or $199,000 more than for the same period the year before — according to documents released at the meeting. The county has $1.27 million budgeted for the program this year, but expenses may top $1.54 million.
County Finance Officer Gail Critcher was optimistic about the county’s ability to cover its 15-percent obligation.
But members of the board did not share her optimism.
Washington County, like all counties in the state, is required to pay 15 percent of the Medicaid funding that it receives from the state. That percentage, for Washington County, has had a $1.17 million cap placed on it. Once the county has paid out that amount for Medicaid, it will be able to tap into a one-time appropriation of $27 million in budget surplus which has been set aside to help counties with their Medicaid bills. But the race is on to achieve legislative caps before larger counties take huge bites out of the budget surplus.
That $27 million is available to every county in the state on a first-come, first-served basis. With the top-10 Medicaid-spending counties paying out a total of more than $13 million per month toward their legislative caps, time is running out for the poorest counties to reap the benefits.
North Carolina is the only state in the nation which requires its counties to pay a percentage of their Medicaid costs.
So far in the fiscal year, the county has paid more than $892,000 for its Medicaid beneficiaries. It hopes to have paid the remaining $285,000 by April.
Peoples says that relief can be found only through state legislation, and that if relief isn’t found soon, the county will be forced to enact a significant tax increase.