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Feds could bailout Medicaid program

Gov. Jim Doyle says he expects Congress will help Wisconsin patch what could be a billion dollar hole in its Medicaid budget.

Part of Wisconsin's Medicaid budget shortfall was actually planned for. The budget the governor signed back in June was only balanced because it assumed the state Department of Health Services would find $600-million in savings. The department's plan would find that money in part by cutting reimbursement rates to pharmacists who treat Medicaid patients and by kicking a big piece of the shortfall until the next budget.

But because enrollment in Medicaid has shot up by more than planned, the program's budget hole could grow by hundreds of millions of dollars more. Doyle says that could require more cuts to hospitals and pharmacists, but he expects Congress will provide more money to help states with Medicaid. He says if Congress provides money for an additional six months that will take care of Wisconsin's Medicaid issue.

Medicaid's budget is regularly in deficit and has grown faster than any other state program over the past decade. Critics suggest that's evidence that all of Medicaid needs an overhaul. But Doyle says he's not worried about some kind of collapse. He says people have been telling him Wisconsin's Medicaid program will collapse over the last eight years, and it's held up well as a national example of what a state can do.

More than a million Wisconsin residents are now enrolled in Medicaid in one form or another. That means almost one in five has a stake in the program.