The Children, Families, Health and Human Services interim committee spent the day at the Capitol Building in Helena yesterday hearing from nearly a hundred witnesses who, over and over again, raised the cry that deeper Medicaid cuts for patient services would lead to increased deaths throughout the state.

Senator Albert Olszewski heard all the testimony, and told KGVO News that the opposition to Governor Steve Bullock’s plan to cut funding still further became stronger throughout the day.

“What we saw was overwhelming opposition to the Governor’s proposal to have the three and a half to five percent reductions in provider payment rates for Medicaid services,” Olszewski said. “We had a little over two and a half hours of testimony from people who were allowed to speak between a minute and a half and two minutes. There were two full meeting rooms and we had to switch out people after an hour and it looked like we had about 90 people who spoke in opposition. No one spoke in favor of the Governor’s reductions.”

Olszewski said that one state representative voiced the majority view that the responsibility for the crisis in Medicaid service provider payments should be laid at the feet of Governor Bullock.

“I think that Representative Jon Kanoke made it very clear that since the tenure of Governor Bullock we’ve seen that spending in the budget has increased on average of 18 percent per year over the last six years,” Olszewski said. “But, in that same time, revenue has only gone up six percent per year. As a result, we’re now spending ourselves into a deficit, because we’re spending more than we’re receiving.”

Olszewski said the committee agreed to file a letter of formal objection to the Governor’s mandated cuts to providers.

“What that means is, at our next meeting on November 17th, the entire interim committee will have a serious discussion about whether or not we can proceed with a formal objection,” he said. “In my opinion, we are within our legal authority to do so because the executive branch is going against the legislative intent of Senate Bill 261 which clearly stated we could only drop provider rates by a total of one and one-half percent.”

The Department of Public Health and Human Services proposed the cuts after the Legislature reduced its budget by about $8.6 million. The total cut, including the loss of federal matching funds, would be $26 million.

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