A total of $2.2 billion in state and federal funding was spent on financial assistance for low-income families and individuals in Utah during fiscal 2007.

In a first-ever report of low-income assistance, which was required in legislation approved by lawmakers earlier this year, the combined bottom lines of 10 state agencies that offer services to the poor are tallied.

The combined amount, the bulk of which — $1.5 billion — is federal, amounts to 21 percent of the state's $11 billion budget. The state's portion of the expenditure was $505 million.

Accounting for more than half of the state's portion was $267 million spent on medical services for Utahns on Medicaid, the joint state and federal insurance program for the poor. The share of the federal government's Medicaid expenditure was $1.1 billion. About 290,000 Utahns are on the insurance plan.

The impetus for the report, lawmakers' hope that they can get a rein on the rapidly rising cost of Medicaid services. The state's general fund is growing at a rate of 5.5 percent a year, while Medicaid spending has increased at 11 percent annually, according to legislative analysts. At that rate, by the year 2022, Medicaid would take up some 31 percent of the general fund.

The Legislature's Medicaid Interim Committee, which convenes for the last time Tuesday before January's general session, has spent the past nine months discussing five areas for possible cost containment. One proposal long advocated by the director of the Utah Department of Health but repeatedly shot down by lawmakers is adopting a preferred drug list for Medicaid patients.

The estimated annual savings from preferred brands for drugs in just two of the categories of pharmaceuticals purchased by the state is $1.7 million.

Reducing the Medicaid reimbursement for hospital outpatient services is also under consideration.

Utah already ranks near the bottom nationwide in how much it reimburses medical providers who treat Medicaid patients, a statistic that prompted a failed measure in the 2006 legislative session to increase reimbursement rates for doctors and dentists.

Low-income advocates as well as several lawmakers note that simply imposing cuts to existing programs would not stem the tide of increasing health-care costs.

The report is intended to put a handle on what, if any, services or costs can be managed.


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