ELIZABETHTOWN — Bladen County’s Board of Commissioners recently began the long and arduous task of preparing its fiscal-year 2014-15 budget.
“We started out talking about our strategic goals,” said Bladen County Manager Greg Martin. “We reviewed the goal statements and talked about the benefits and challenges.”
Martin said the discussion lasted a couple of hours and included ways to achieve the goals set. The conversation then transitioned into budget-related issues.
Martin said one big challenge facing the county this budget session is changes to the reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid for EMS services and home health services.
Martin said Bladen County Health Director Chris Harrelson spoke with the board about the issue at length.
“There have been changes and Medicaid no longer pays second to Medicare,” said Martin.
He added that the U.S. House has voted to delay cuts to Medicare payments to physicians by one year. Had the House not acted, a reduction in Medicare reimbursements by as much as 24 percent would have taken effect in April 2015.
Martin said there are concerns, though, because this vote only postpones the Medicare cuts for one year.
“It is really concerning,” said Martin. He added that these are revenue sources that are very important to the county.
“Property taxes only make up about half the revenue needed to operate the county,” said Martin. “These are sizable revenues.”
He said the future of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements aren’t the only budget concerns.
“There is competition from for-profit home health agencies,” said Martin.
He added there are strategies being put in place to help combat and address some of the concerns.
“Bladen County Home Health is going through the accreditation process to establish their professionalism,” said Martin.
He added the agency is also creating an aggressive marketing campaign as well as making sure there is accuracy in the coding and billing process and partnering with area health care providers.
Martin also said there is an uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act and any impacts it may have in the future as well.
“The county participates in the state plan and they have transitioned from a fiscal year to a calendar year. We are not sure what the increases will be in January,” said Martin.
He said this is only the beginning of what he expects to be numerous, detailed discussions for the budgeting process.
Martin said that departmental budgets were due Friday and then the process of meeting with department heads to discuss their proposals will begin in the coming weeks.