Deficits seen for state health plan, Medicaid

State officials face sizable budget deficits in two health programs.

The health plan that covers about 700,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and school personnel, as well as their dependents, has a projected $109 million budget deficit for 2012, Department of Community Health officials said Thursday.

And the state’s Medicaid program, which covers 1.6 million Georgians, has a projected shortfall of $50 million to $100 million.

Shortfalls have occurred previously in Medicaid and the State Health Benefit Plan. The gaps have been filled by the General Assembly when it returns in January to amend the current fiscal year budget.

Still, the deficit in the state employee health plan comes despite a 10 percent increase in premiums that members will pay, starting in January.

Ironically, the two health programs were connected financially during the General Assembly budget process when lawmakers removed $77 million from Medicaid to help shore up the state employees benefits plan. The money also went to help pay interest for the unemployment insurance trust fund.

Community Health’s commissioner, David Cook, voiced concern about the state employees plan deficit at the agency’s board meeting Thursday. Agency officials are considering ‘’a variety of changes’’ to the health plan, Cook said. “We’ll be looking at pretty aggressive policies.’’

“It’s a big issue,’’ he acknowledged.

The Medicaid budget dodged sharp cuts that were proposed in the original budget outline presented by Gov. Nathan Deal. Legislators shelved a plan to eliminate adult Medicaid dental, podiatry and vision benefits.

And a proposed 1 percent payment cut to doctors and other medical providers was reduced to 0.5 percent.

Tim Sweeney, senior health care analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, an education and research organization, said the Medicaid shortfall is at least $77 million ‘’and could be larger, depending on enrollment growth.’’

Financial maneuvers by state officials are ‘’not a permanent solution’’ to budget gaps, Sweeney said. And they put ‘’a lot of pressure’’ on the state to continue its current revenue growth, he added.