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Time runs out on parents seeking to testify at hearing on Medicaid cuts

Parents of more than two-dozen children who depend on the state to fulfill their medical needs showed up at the Sawyer Building on Wednesday to explain how proposed Medicaid cuts would impact their lives.

They didn’t get the chance.

The 45 minutes allocated for public comment evaporated before Sara King, the mother of a child with cerebral palsy, and others made it to the microphone.

King was about to testify when Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, closed the three-hour joint meeting of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.

“Oh my God,’’ a red-faced King said as she stood in an aisle on the fourth floor.

The meeting, conducted in Carson City and Las Vegas via teleconference, was convened to discuss previous Medicaid cuts as well as those on the horizon. The cuts, especially reimbursements to pediatric sub-specialists and health care facilities, have hurt several aspects of the state’s health care system, officials say.

University Medical Center cut about a dozen services before the end of last year.

North Vista Hospital closed its neonatal intensive care unit Dec. 31.

Also in December, Desert View Regional Medical Center in Pahrump shuttered its Labor and Delivery department, which means women ready to give birth will have to travel at least 60 miles to the nearest hospital.

In addition, some pediatric orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists have stopped accepting Medicaid patients, and Southern Nevada’s only pediatric cardiac surgeon has let go of a pediatric nurse and two medical assistants to offset anticipated revenue shortages.

Representatives from Nevada’s medical, hospital and physical therapy associations as well as physicians and patient advocates were able to testify about the cuts on Wednesday.

Dr. Michael Ciccilo, a pediatric cardiac surgeon, was the only speaker to testify from Las Vegas.

Leslie said she did not know there was a group of parents waiting to share their concerns. Their names were not on the sign-in sheet, she said after the meeting.

“I certainly don’t want anyone to be under the impression that we didn’t want to take testimony from the parents,’’ she said. “That’s not the case. … We want to hear from them.’’

Leslie said she plans to look into the possibility of holding a special hearing specifically for parents to testify, even if it is held on a Saturday.

Those who did speak asked lawmakers and the state’s Division of Health Care Financing and Policy to undo what’s already been done and to ward off any future cuts to Medicaid.

Dr. Mark Barry, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon who has been vocal on the issue, asked the committees to devise a “special legislative action” to restore Medicaid cuts.

“We want to treat these children, however, we have to stay in business to do so,’’ he said.

Medicaid is the $2.8 billion state-federal program that provides medical care for the poor, disabled and elderly.

Chuck Duarte, administrator of the Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, said it’s always a challenge when there’s a reduction in revenue that doctors count on to pay staff and for infrastructure.

But, he said, the division had no choice. It was given a budget “target” and had to meet it.

“This particular budget actually reflects a significant increase in Medicaid spending over the next biennium,’’ Duarte said. “We are going to be covering 52,000 more individuals. Those are staggering figures.”

Assemblywoman Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, told attendees the committee “would do its very best” to come up with a solution. She said the federal stimulus money would help but that it would not be enough to provide full funding.

“It is a one-shot stimulus,’’ she said. “We have to make sure we’re planning for sustainability.”

King and her husband, James, who took the day off to attend the meeting said they understood the difficult position the state is in. However, they didn’t understand why Medicaid appears to be taking the brunt of cuts.

King had planned to testify about how Medicaid has helped her 6-year-old.

Her son, James Jr., has cerebral palsy and once needed a wheelchair or a walker to get around.

Because of his Medicaid-funded physical therapy, he is able to walk on his own.

“Without physical therapy he’ll be right back in the wheelchair,’’ she said after the hearing.


Contact reporter Annette Wells at awells@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.

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