Hemophilia program could get the budget ax

Through a state contract, Hemophilia of Georgia is helping dozens of patients get or keep health insurance and lifesaving medication for the inherited bleeding disorder.

The money “saves lives and saves money,’’ said Jeff Cornett of Hemophilia of Georgia. He noted Tuesday that an uninsured patient with hemophilia can run up huge emergency room bills.

But the state’s Department of Public Health, in budget recommendations released last week, would eliminate that hemophilia funding next fiscal year.

The cut comes as a result of an order from Gov. Nathan Deal’s Office of Planning and Budget that state agencies reduce their budgets by 3 percent for this fiscal year and fiscal 2014.

The proposed hemophilia program grant cuts would be $498,000 this year and $698,000 in 2014.

Overall, Public Health’s recommended budget reductions amount to $5.6 million in each year. Those recommendations go to the governor’s office and then eventually to the Legislature in January, and the details of what is to be cut can change at any point in the approval process.

Other Public Health areas targeted for elimination are the Health Check program, for preventive care to children eligible for Medicaid, and a program to treat hypertension. State grant-in-aid funds to counties also will take a hit.

The agency said Tuesday that the hemophilia patients served by the state funds would be transferred to a federally run health plan for people with pre-existing medical conditions, a statement that was disputed by Cornett.

Public Health also said the hypertension program served just five counties and can be absorbed by the private market, and that the HealthCheck children are covered by Medicaid and can still get services in the private sector.

The agency held an August hearing to get input from patient advocates and medical groups about the order to reduce the agency’s budget. (Here’s a GHN article about that public input.)

Public Health was created as an independent agency under a state law passed in 2011. During its first year, it started new programs to combat obesity and infant mortality, among other health problems.

“Obviously Public Health has made real progress this year, and we want to make sure we make progress in the coming year,’’ said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the Public Health commissioner, as she opened the August board hearing.

Hemophilia of Georgia’s Cornett said his organization has been able to reduce the state allotment from a high of $1.7 million to last year’s $698,000. The group was able to save another $239,000 from that total and return it to the state, he said, partly by signing up patients for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, part of the health reform law of 2010.

Cornett added that young people in their 20s were allowed to stay on the parents’ health plan till age 26, another provision of the reform law.

Others with hemophilia who have private insurance were given help in paying their premiums.

The Public Health grant helps 100 to 150 Georgians with hemophilia or other bleeding disorders, Cornett said.

He added that these patients currently are on the pre-existing condition plan or are covered by private insurance, getting help through the state funds with their premiums. Those with private coverage cannot be transferred immediately to the government plan, he said.

The cutoff of these funds would cause some to lose insurance, he said. “If you [a person with hemophilia] go into an ER, you can run up $1 million in bills in uncompensated care.’’

Patients may be able to get medication –- factor concentrate –- through drug company donations until they qualify for the pre-existing condition plan. But if they remain uninsured for a long time, Cornett said, the pharmaceutical firms may not want to continue those donations.

This is not the first time the Hemophilia of Georgia contract has been targeted for elimination. The same thing happened last year, but the governor’s budget restored the funds.

Could that happen again?

“We’re hopeful that the folks working on the budget will recognize the value of this program,’’ Cornett said.