Birdwhistell: Kentucky State Medicaid Able To "Pay All The Bills"

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The state's once troubled Medicaid program is now thriving thanks to widespread reform, a state official said.

"We're going to pay all the bills," Health and Family Services Secretary Mark Birdwhistell said Monday. "I feel very good about where we are."

Birdwhistell's comments were made about two years after officials projected a deficit in the program as high as $675 million, which was later reduced to $125 million.

Instead, Birdwhistell said the state will be able to handle the $5.7 billion cost of the program, which helps 710,000 of the state's lowest income and disabled residents.

Birdwhistell pointed to the state's ability to provide more generic drugs to patients while actually dropping the average number of prescriptions per recipient as a major reason for the decline. The average cost of health care for Medicaid recipients also dropped slightly, from $119 a week in 2005 to $115 last year.

The reforms, which were made possible by a major federal waiver approved last year, have helped the state land $55 million worth of additional federal funding.

While the outlook is encouraging, some Democratic leaders are hesitant to say the state's Medicaid crisis has been averted.

"I won't say I feel confident that we've overcome the deficit," said Rep. Stan Lee, D-Elizabethtown, the co-chairman of the Medicaid Oversight and Advisory Committee. "But we've had some very, very good beginnings."

Not all the reforms, however, have met with success. Birdwhistell said pilot programs designed to educate residents about preventable problems like heart disease and obesity are not making as immediate an impact as hoped.

Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, said he was concerned about Medicaid benefits being slashed while reforms struggled to gain footing. He said his fears, however, have not been realized.

Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader,

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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