Gov. Mike DeWine announced in early May that Ohio would be cutting more than $200 million to Medicaid due to budgetary woes amid the coronavirus pandemic — and those cuts might be felt in Athens County.

While the Athens County Job & Family Services has been assured that the recent cuts won’t directly affect local services, former director Jack Frech is concerned the reductions may still hurt local health care providers that are emerging following a few bleak months.

“I wouldn’t necessarily presume that there isn’t going to be some consequence,” Frech said in an interview. “The only thing we know is the actual cut they just made. We just don’t know what’s going to happen going forward.”

Of the $775 million total reduction to the general state budget, $210 million are in cuts to Medicaid — the second largest cut in a single area, followed only by the K12 Foundation Payment Reduction, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Athens County takes down around $120 million a year in Medicaid funds, so Frech said it wouldn’t take much of a cut to see a significant loss in revenue.

The cuts Dewine announced in May were primarily to adjust reimbursements to managed care organizations. No cuts were made directly to Medicaid rates or services for the current fiscal year, according to OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital President Mark Seckinger.

But that doesn’t mean deeper cuts are out of the question for the upcoming fiscal year.

“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on state revenues and as a result, we anticipate that the next state fiscal year (2021) will be a challenge,” Seckinger wrote in an email statement.

“We do not yet know if or how Medicaid rates and services will be impacted by the state’s budget issues related to COVID-19.”

Various health services have already taken a financial hit because of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

All elective surgeries in hospitals were put on pause in mid-March by the state and only recently allowed to proceed, causing a loss in revenue.

Behavioral healthcare providers — who provide services for anything from the treatment of mental health issues, to smoking cessation, to drinking and drug abuse — had to eliminate all in-person care with the onset of the COVID-19. Without the ability to meet with patients face-to-face, providers were limited to only what they could do through telemedicine.

“If they’re not providing services, they’re not getting paid either,” Frech said.

Health services also play a major role in the general southeast Ohio economy.

“This is hugely important — not just for the essential health care providers but to our local economy. Health services is one of the leading employers in all of southeast Ohio,” he said.

Cuts to Medicaid at the state level also mean a loss of federal funds, according to Frech.“When you cut any of those services, or cut back on state funding, you get a disproportionate loss of federal funds,” he said.

Future cuts to Medicaid are not out of the question, and the local impact of those reductions are uncertain, Executive Director of the Athens County Job & Family Services Jean Demosky said.

“The state and federal budgets are fluid right now, so we do not know the effect another deep cut could have on our local budget and services to our county residents,” Demosky wrote in an email.

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