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Emotional Testimony on Health and Welfare

More than 800 pack Capitol

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The Joint Finance Appropriations Committee opened its chambers this morning to the second round of public testimony on the tough budget faced by legislators this session. In the first round, hundreds of Idaho citizens—some driving hours to attend—gave three-minute, rapid-fire testimony on the services they needed from the state Department of Education.

Now, JFAC is turning its ears to Health and Welfare. Already this morning we've heard from adults with mental disabilities, doctors, health-care providers and health-services industry professionals—and Elizabeth, an adorable teenage girl with autism.

"I want to go to college," she read from her notes, obviously shy. "I want to have an apartment and a cat named Adam. I also want to have a rabbit named Chocolate Syrup. I want to have a job. I want to be a good citizen. I want to pay taxes."

Elizabeth Reedy, like others who have testified this morning, fears the ramifications of cuts to the health-care services portion of the Fiscal Year 2012 budget. With a budget hole of $84 million, Health and Welfare will inevitably sustain some cuts. Of most concern to those testifying: psychosocial rehabilitation services, adults with developmental disabilities and home health care—programs likely to sustain cuts.

"I’ve been a quadriplegic for over 20 years due to an auto accident," said Greg Renshaw from his wheelchair. With state services, Renshaw is able to live in his own home—for now. "Recent Medicaid policy changes have put me into an economic tail spin … I’m in danger of losing my house," he said.

Every testimony thus far has been a plea to keep a program, or a suggestion to provide a new one, in hopes of ultimately saving the state money. Numerous individuals have suggested that deep cuts will ultimately cost the state more money.

"The system is broken because the reimbursement rates went from $.40 on the dollar to $.30 on the dollar," said dentist Rich Bailey of reimbursement on dental services for Medicaid patients. His program School Smiles, he claims, could help save the state money through prevention.

"Forty-two percent of all births in Idaho are paid for by Medicaid," said Michelle Bartlett of the Idaho Midwifery Council.

"At 18, I was a dysfunctional mess," said Mark Reinhardt, a self-described aspiring Walter Cronkite. "There were road blocks but I was able to pass them. Without these services, I would be institutionalized and/or in prison."

By 9 a.m., 142 people had signed up to testify. In addition to being shown from the Capitol's largest auditorium on the Garden Level where JFAC is convened, the hearings are being shown in five other overflow committee rooms, as well as online at Idaho Public Television.

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