Facing major cuts, Health Dept. will have to ‘re-brand’

Facing more reductions in state spending that health advocates say amount to more than 47 percent for the Department of Health, some lawmakers say the agency will have to “re-brand” itself and operate more like it did in the 1900s than the 21st century.

A budget draft as lawmakers enter the final haggling to set a state budget for the coming fiscal year shows the Health Department’s state general funds being cut from $36 million to $27.8 million, about a 23 percent cut. But in prior years, the Health Department provided millions of dollars in “flow through” money to hospitals for trauma care from special fees. Last year, lawmakers “swept” many special fees and funds into the state general fund. The current draft of the Health Department budget shows nearly $9 million of its state general fund budget earmarked for trauma care payments to hospitals, bringing its true cut in state general funds to more than 47 percent.

But Senate Appropriations Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, and Senate President Pro tem Terry Burton, who handled the agency’s budget bill draft on the Senate floor this week, said the Health Department will see “savings” of about $6 million in fees it won’t have to pay other agencies because of last year’s special funds sweep measure, lessening the net loss of state general funds.

Clarion Ledger