Montana officials meet with providers on restoring funding

August 1, 2018

Director of Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services Sheila Hogan, center, and Dan Villa, the governor's budget director, listen to recommendations Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018, from health and human service providers as the state decides where to restore millions of dollars in funding that had been cut to fill a budget shortfall, in Helena, Mont. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Health care and social service providers and recipients made their cases Wednesday for where the state health department should allocate $30.5 million in funding that had been cut because of a budget shortfall.

The agency plans to reverse Medicaid provider rate cuts starting on Sept. 1, which will account for about $4 million, state Budget Director Dan Villa said. Some of the restored money will qualify for federal matching funds, he said.

Sheila Hogan, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, said Gov. Steve Bullock has tasked the agency with coming up with a plan for an efficient and fiscally-sound targeted case management program.

Based on Wednesday’s comments and other feedback, the agency will propose changes and take additional public comment before implementing them, she said.

Many speakers urged the department to restore funding to preventive services, like case management, that help reduce spending on more acute services.

Cuts made earlier this year in the face of a projected budget deficit gutted services that helped people with physical and mental disabilities to remain in their communities and work, and caused the state to lose some providers. Rural areas were hit hard because offices were closed and travel was limited, speakers said.

Attendees supported restoring funding for mental health and chemical dependency counseling and home support services for struggling families, in part to reduce the number of children in foster care.

Several state employees testified that the cuts and resultant job vacancies have left them doing the bare minimum and feeling like they don’t have the time and manpower that their clients deserve.

“These public employees have picked up the slack as much as they can and have done heroic work,” said Jill Cohenour, a state senator and state employee. She advocated filling job vacancies, noting there are 13 child protection caseworkers in Billings with about 850 children in care.

The health department, which had nearly 420 job vacancies in April, has announced plans to add five positions to the Billings children and family services office.

Denturists argued for restoration of cuts that eliminated their services while others decried the waiting lists for new autism services and vocational rehabilitation services.

About 150 people attended the listening session at a downtown Helena hotel while another 100 joined online, agency officials said.

After budget cuts, transfers and an improved revenue outlook, Montana has $45.5 million to restore to 21 state agencies, including the health department.

The Office of the Commission of Higher Education plans to allocate its $2.2 million to the operating budgets of the state universities, colleges and community colleges, said Tyler Trevor, a deputy commissioner.

The departments of Correction and Justice will each receive just over $2.2 million.

The Office of Public Instruction will receive $1.1 million it plans to use for special education, career and technical programs and to fill vacancies. Spokesman Dylan Klapmeier said that’s a small amount compared with the nearly $31 million cut by the agency.

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