A day after one senator hinted that Mark Sanford’s administration misled legislators, another one condemned the remarks, saying the comments were out of line.
The controversy started Wednesday after Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) told members of the Senate that former Department of Health and Human Services director Emma Forkner testified she was ordered to give an artificially low prediction of Medicaid’s expected cost increases.
Forkner told the subcommittee she was instructed by former Sanford chief of staff Scott English to predict four percent growth, when she believed the final number would actually be higher.
Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) came to the defense of Sanford’s staff, saying the smaller number was used because Sanford’s budget proposal anticipated cuts in services that legislators did not make.
He put in there that, in order for this four percent increase to be realized and controlled, there needed to be some changes made. For instance, HHS (would) be given the ability to cut out optional programs. HHS (would)… not be restricted by provisos in terms of reimbursing doctors.
The agency’s budget request in January 2010 was $344 million. However, by April, Forkner told the Senate Finance Committee the agency needed $446 million. But the final budget provided only $354 million, which Sanford promptly vetoed.
HHS is currently operating with a $100 million deficit, largely due to nearly ten percent growth in the number of people on Medicaid rolls.
Davis, a former Sanford staffer himself, said the agency ended up not even getting as much as they asked for.
This body passed a budget that appropriated to HHS $92 million less than (Forkner) told (the)Senate Finance (Committee) she needed in order to go ahead and run those operations.
Davis added that, with a 3-to-1 federal match, that $92 million difference grew to more than $270 million. “You’re getting pretty close to the deficit.”
Sheheen shot back that he only repeated what Forkner said in subcommittee.
I’m not going to forget about what I heard. I’m… going to… let you know the things that I learned as we make up our mind on how we should move forward.
The issue is complex, as Sanford’s administration asked for $446 million, but rejected the Legislature’s budget because it used federal grants which had not yet been approved by Congress. Six months later, the funding was cleared in Washington.
Davis said he’s happy that Medicaid cuts are a top priority right now, because legislators ignored it for too long.
Some senators said here a month ago, “I’m going to start looking at this Medicaid budget, I’m going to start spending some time finding out about that.” Well I hope so! It’s 20 percent of the General Fund. I guess the question is: why hadn’t you been looking at it before now?
The General Fund is the Legislature’s discretionary spending. This year, the fund faces an estimated $700 million shortfall.