HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt strongly rebuffed Democratic lawmakers who charge that proposed cuts to Medicaid would cripple hospitals ability to handle a mass-casualty event, saying that the federal share of the program is for people, not for institutions.
Leavitt, who appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, said that while he is concerned about surge capacity across the nations emergency departments, tapping dollars from the Medicaid program is the wrong way to fund emergency preparedness. We have ways in which we can funnel directly to the hospitals funds that are necessary to improve their surge capacity, Leavitt said, referring to about $7 billion in federal grant money aimed at bolstering disaster preparedness. Medicaid is not the source of funds to do that.
The hearing was a continuation of one that the committee held May 5, when lawmakers heard from a number of emergency department personnel who said that the Bush administrations proposed Medicaid regulations, which cut the federal share of dollars to certain hospitals, would hinder their ability to treat a sudden influx of patients.
Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) sharply disagreed with Leavitt. Waxman said that emergency rooms across the country are already overwhelmed to capacity on a day-to-day basis, and chopping funding would only aggravate the situation. With all due respect, Mr. Secretary, I think youre ignoring reality, he said. -- by Matthew DoBias