Beers renews criticism of Nevada Checkup program

Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, on Wednesday questioned budget increases for the Nevada Checkup program, which provides health insurance to the children of parents who can't provide it yet don't qualify for Medicaid coverage.

Gov. Kenny Guinn's budget includes money to increase the number of children covered from 25,000 to more than 32,000 over the next two years.

In response to Beers' questions, Medicaid administrator Chuck Duarte said there is no cap on the program and that it likely will continue to grow at a far faster rate than the state's population -- about 12 percent a year.

"So I would eventually not need coverage for my children?" Beers asked. "There's no limit to demand for this program?"

Duarte said the limit is the federal money available, because federal funds cover two-thirds of the cost. But he said by federal statute, the program can't be capped, although there are controls built in to prevent those who can find and afford other insurance from joining Nevada Checkup.

He said the program is "an opportunity to expand health benefits to needy residents."

But Beers argued programs including Nevada Checkup and Medicaid have drained millions of dollars from the state's Human Resources reserves over the past two years. He made similar statements about Gov. Kenny Guinn's budget and his request for a $1 billion increase in taxes, saying he believes there are numerous places, especially in Human Resources, where spending can be cut.

"So as I understand it, you've basically blown through all our savings creating ongoing costs," he told Duarte.

Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, defended the spending, pointing out that those reserves were used deliberately by lawmakers and the governor instead of general fund money two years ago.

"It's a natural consequence of that decision," said Rawson.

Beers also voted for those spending plans two years ago as a member of Ways and Means.

Nevada Checkup is budgeted for $73.6 million over the next two years, but only about $22 million is state money.

Duarte said the biggest single program in Human Resources is the Medicaid system with just under $2 billion in spending planned over the next two years. Of that, $645 million is state general fund money. The majority of the cash is federal.

Duarte said Medicaid caseloads are expected to increase more than 30 percent over the next fiscal year and 10 percent more in fiscal year 2005.

Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said that means by 2005, more than 200,000 Nevadans -- nearly one in 10 -- will be receiving Medicaid benefits.


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