Health agencies await sequestration

The state Department of Public Health said Tuesday that it expects funding reductions from sequestration, but added that it’s unclear so far how much money or what programs will be cut.

And the timeline for decisions on federal reductions is also unknown, said Kate Pfirman, chief financial officer of Public Health, at an agency board meeting Tuesday.

Sequestration, or the “sequester,’’ is a series of automatic cuts to government agencies, resulting from the federal debt ceiling compromise of 2011.

Areas expected to see large cuts in federal health spending include maternal and children’s health, mental health, and community health centers, according to a Stateline article.

State and local agencies that receive federal funding, meanwhile, are facing uncertainty as federal departments figure out the cuts.

Larry Lehman, executive director of AID Gwinnett/Ric Crawford Clinic, told GHN, “From what we’ve heard, it’s a possibility of up to a 5 percent cut’’ in federal funding to the clinic.

If that occurs, it would likely lead to fewer HIV/AIDS patients served, he said.

The National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, meanwhile, says sequestration nationally will result in up to 15,000 clients losing access to lifesaving medications they receive through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).

Almost half of those patients who will be disenrolled live in the South, including 200 to 300 people in Georgia, NASTAD says.

“Any cut to ADAP is a huge problem,’’ Lehman said. The medications suppress patients’ viral loads, and they reduce HIV transmission rates in general, he noted.

The Stateline article said sequestration will cut $303 million from the CDC, which on average provides 40 percent of states’ public health budgets.

Pfirman said Tuesday that the total impact of sequestration “is unknown to us because federal agencies have flexibility on what to cut.’’

The only item in Public Health’s budget exempt from the cuts is the Vaccines for Children program, she said.

Public Health will keep the governor’s office, legislators, board members and district health offices updated on the reductions, Pfirman added.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities said Tuesday that the sequester is expected to reduce the agency’s block grant funding by a total of almost $5 million on an annualized basis.

According to the agency’s estimate, its Social Services Block Grant would take a cut of $1.7 million; the Substance Abuse and Prevention Treatment Block Grant, $2.5 million; and the Community Mental Health Block Grant, $700,000.