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Health services to feel budget ax

Another side effect of the pending budget cuts in the state's budget is coming in the form of children's health insurance. Specifically, the ALL Kids program.

Dr. Don Williamson, state health officer, announced a freeze on enrollment for the children's health insurance program effective September 1, meaning that any new applicants will be placed on a waiting list - possibly for up to 6 months - while children rotate off of the program.

According to Williamson, children currently enrolled in the program may remain on the program as long as they continue to meet all eligibility requirements.

Currently the program, in its fifth year, has more than 61,000 children enrolled in the program - a number Williamson said will decrease.

"By the end of September, we will have only 61,000 children on the program," Williamson said. "It is a monetary thing. ALL Kids is funded with 79 percent federal funds drawn down by a 21 percent state match, most of which comes from the General Fund.

"With the possibility of budget cuts, we simply cannot add more children to the ALL Kids program at this time," he added. "Around March, we expect to be down to 51,000 kids. That's a number we believe we can sustain. By freezing enrollment now we are hoping to avoid having to actively take children off the program. If we waited, we would have too many and had to dis-enroll children with the budget we are likely to get."

In order to reduce the numbers of children on the program, Williamson said he was hopeful normal attrition rates would take care of most of the enrollees.

"Some children, on their anniversary date will have to submit for re-enrollment," he said. "They may not qualify anymore simply because their parents make too much money, or not enough money - in which case they would be placed on Medicaid. Also, some participants will simply 'age out' when they turn 19."

Williamson said the main factor in the ALL Kids reduction was the failure of Amendment 1, and this is a way the state health office can fairly reduce its budget.

"We're going to manage the best we can," Williamson said. "We're going to keep taking applications, but we will only have so many available slots to fill."

Williamson added that the applications for the ALL Kids program will continue to be screened, and children who meet the eligibility criteria for the program will be placed on the waiting list in the order the applications are received.

Williamson also went on to say that several services provided by the department will also face cuts.

He said budget reductions were likely to result in the following actions:

€ Reduction in the frequency of food service establishment inspections from once every three months to once every four months.

€ An increase in the time required to approve septic tank permits and installations which will delay new home construction.

€ Increase in the time required for inspection of new health care facilities, which will delay the availability of health services offered at these sites.

€ Decrease in the frequency of inspection of some health care facilities (such as abortion centers).

€ Influenza vaccine will not be provided to county health departments for the 2004-2005 flue season. (They will remain available for this year.) This will affect more than 200,000 citizens who recieve the vaccine at county health departments.

€ The department will be forced to eliminate funds which provide drugs to approximately 100 patients infected with HIV and AIDS.

€ Some AIDS prevention activities will be eliminated.

€ The state match for the Abstinence Program will be eliminated. Local communities applying for federal abstinence funds will have to obtain matching money from local sources.

€ Branch laboratories in Dothan and Decatur will be forced to close.

€ Perinatal service grants will be eliminated. This will result in a reduction in education to health care providers and the support for services to graduates of neonatal intensive care units.

€ The Cancer Detection program will be eliminated resulting in some women who currently receive Pap smears through the department no longer being able to receive those tests.

€ The department will close county health department satellite offices not fully supported by local governments in those counties with multiple sites.

In addition, Williamson said some 250 employees at the state, county and area levels are expected to be layed off.