News - State Community Health board

For pulling a no-show at budget time

On Sept. 8, the eight-member board that sets policy for the state Department of Community Health was supposed to vote on a proposal to slash state Medicaid funding by more than $300 million.

It was supposed to, but it didn't. That was because, by the time the matter came up for a vote, there weren't enough board members in the room — or on conference call — for a quorum.

So, dozens of Medicaid recipients and other interested parties who came to persuade the Community Health board to spare the program went home without seeing the board members actually make a decision. To avoid missing its imminent deadline for submitting its proposed budget to Gov. Sonny Perdue, the Community Health Department has been forced to send the proposal on without a board vote.

A few days later, in apparent reaction to such an outrageous abdication of responsibility, Perdue replaced the board chairwoman, whose term had already expired.

Action taken. Problem solved. Right?

Well, not exactly. Certainly, anyone who agrees to serve on a board that deals with issues as important as providing health coverage to 1.4 million low-income Georgians should at least bother to show up for meetings. And it would seem doubly important to attend the one meeting at which the annual budget vote is scheduled. In that regard, the board as a whole was derelict in its duties.

But while it's easy to fault the board for dodging a tough decision, the reality is that its votes don't really make a difference. Any votes the health board takes are simply recommendations; as with any other state department, the real budget decisions are made by the governor and the Legislature.

In fact, given that the Community Health board has faced three straight years of painful cuts to indigent health services over which it has little control, it's understandable that board members might tire of showing up to meetings, only to look like the bad guy when forced to vote.

Perhaps, instead of blowing off meetings, board members should resign in protest, forcing Perdue to address the underlying problems that have led to the Medicaid shortfall.

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