Making budget cuts to low income dental care may sound like a good way to save money but it will actually cost the state slightly more than it will save, says Linda Katz, the executive director of the newly named Economic Progress Institute.
That’s because, she said, for every dollar the state spends on low income medical assistance the federal government provides matching funds.
So while the state would save $2.6 million by cutting low income dental care for the tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders who make use of this program, the Department of Human Services would actually lose more than $5.2 million in funding. More than $5.2 million because the feds actually match $.52 on the dollar, Katz said.
“It’s easy to talk about raw numbers,” she said. “But you have to understand what is behind those numbers.”
At a presentation last week, Katz said for the last few budget cycles those on the right have talked about making cuts health and human services spending because it has gone up 72 percent over the past decade while the overall state budget has only increase by about 40 percent.
While that’s true, much of that increase to health and human services comes in the form of federal dollars.
Consider food stamps, for example. Yes, the state distributes some $298 million worth of food stamps, but 99 percent of those dollars comes from the federal government, Katz said.
Given that food stamp spending has gone up some 368.5 percent over the past ten years, according to her presentation, it accounts for a significant increase in the health and human services spending in Rhode Island, but almost all of it comes from the federal government, rather than directly from Rhode Island taxes.
Of course, the vast majority of the increases to health service spending has been in providing medical benefits. But this increase has mirrored the increases in the private sector, Katz said. Citing a Kaiser study, she said family medical coverage has increased 11 percent over the past ten years.
“The same factors that are driving up costs in the private sector are driving up costs in the public sector as well,” she said.
These increased costs should be something that Rhode Island is willing to absorb.
“Certainly everybody should have access to high quality affordable health care,” she said.