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Despite budget hole, DHS wants big increase in state funding

Wisconsin's health care agency is asking for a billion dollar increase in state funding as the governor and lawmakers prepare to grapple with a massive budget shortfall.

Next year alone, the Department of Health Services is asking for a 19-percent increase in state funding and it wants another six-percent increase the year after that.

DHS is the agency that's in charge of Medicaid, which means it's responsible for reimbursing hospitals, doctors and dentists when they treat low income patients.

Ed Miller, a political professor at University of Wisconsin-Stevens who specializes in health policy, says the DHS' budget request sounds high, but he says it probably reflects the increased costs of Medicaid...

"We'll have additional recipients for Medicaid. We have an expanded program, Badgercare Plus, to cover more people and just simply the increase in medical costs," says Miller.

DHS is asking for a lot more tax dollars than it was just two years ago, but in the last budget the governor and lawmakers tapped into other pots of money to pay for health care.

In November 2007 the Wisconsin Medical Society filed a lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin to stop the raid of $200 million from the state's Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund. That fund is designed to help keep medical malpractice premiums down and is is funded solely by state-mandated payments by physicians.

Mark Grapentine, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Medical Society, says it makes more sense to do what the department is asking for this year.

"You're talking about an increase in the general tax dollars that are used," he said. "And it's the most stable form of money that can come into a department. And I do think that makes a lot of sense.

"That if you're trying to support programs that are designed to provide health care to the sickest and the poorest of Wisconsin's citizens, you want to make sure that the money coming in is very stable."

DHS declined repeated requests to comment for this story.

Gov. Jim Doyle has said all agencies will need to trim back what they're asking for, but he's also stressed the need to protect Medicaid during a time when more people will need it.