The state will probably have "wiggle room" to deal with a shortfall in state funds for the Medicaid program, Gov. Norm Bangerter told members of the Medical Care Advisory Committee.

Members of the committee met with the governor Monday to request that funding of medical programs for Utah's very-low-income citizens be made a top priority.The committee, made up of health care providers, citizens at large and recipients, is federally mandated to advise the Division of Health Care Financing, which administers low-income medical programs.

"We have major problems with the fiscal '89-'90 Medicaid budget even without tax initiatives," Charles Doane, director of government relations for Intermountain Health Care Inc. and chairman of the advisory committee, said. "If we have to fund 1989 at the current level, it will adversely affect the lives of nearly 60,000 people. We feel that the kinds of programs that will be eliminated are not acceptable. I think the repercussions would be just a tragedy."

An infusion of $10 million in state funds ($40 million with the federal 3-1 match) is needed just to maintain programs, some of them required by federal law. Passage of tax initiatives would result in an additional $5 million cut in state revenues to Medicaid, according to division projections.

"It is a high priority," Bangerter said. "I think we'll be able to meet it if we don't get wiped out. As far as a top priority; there are a lot of priorities. But it will be an equal priority and I think we'll have wiggle room."

Bangerter said a portion of the state's rainy-day fund might be used, if no new revenues are found.

If the division cuts programs, the Department of Social Services will have to "pick up" $2 million to $21/2 million for services - and that money would not be eligible for the $3-$1 federal match, said Norman Angus, department director.

Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, director of the Health Department, said being "a priority" may not be good enough. "While we know there are needs other places in the state - valid needs - probably none of them would result in people dying. They are more quality of life needs. Ours very well could result in deaths."

Members of the Medical Care Advisory Committee have come out strongly against the proposed tax initiatives, which they say would eliminate many services to the blind, the disabled and children.

Should initiatives pass, Doane said, funding for nearly half the people in nursing homes would be eliminated, as well as the Medically Needy program for 6,000 Utahns, and other essential programs.

"One accusation is it's the government fighting against the tax initiatives," Doane said. "There are many groups like us who are citizens who advise departments. We're just citizens."