State Health Official Says Alabama’s Committee-Approved Budget Could Let Dialysis Patients Die

Yesterday, the Alabama House’s General Fund budget committee approved a budget for 2013 that’s just under $1.4 billion. To balance the budget, legislators approved drastic cuts public health, and other human services instead of seeking revenue increases, and Medicaid will be particularly hard hit. On top of the $68 million that has already been cut, Alabama’s Medicaid program will lose an additional 30 percent, or $175 million, in FY 2013, leaving it with a budget of $400 million.

State Health Officer Don Williamson, who heads the Alabama public health department, said he will report to lawmakers next week if Alabama can satisfy minimum federal Medicaid standards under the proposed budget. “I don’t think there’s any way in the world any human being can make this budget work at $400 million without serious cuts to someone,” Williamson said. And because dialysis treatment could be on the chopping block, he warned legislators during the budget hearing that the cuts could lead to deaths, according to Alabama Arise:

The state is not required to cover dialysis treatments under Medicaid, but Williamson said cuts to the $4.5 million that the state spends on those services would be unrealistic because they would be tantamount to a death sentence for those patients. “I know exactly what happens if you don’t dialysize people,” Williamson said. “They’re dead in two weeks.”

Committee chairman Rep. Jim Barton (R) admitted that the budget situation is dire. “There isn’t much about this budget that is pleasing to the eye,” he said. But one legislator pointed out that Alabama cannot survive for long on a cuts-only system for balancing the budget. “At some point, we’re going to have to have some courage in this body and look at revenue-generating measures,” Rep. Merika Coleman (D) said.