Lawmakers seek to retain Consumer Health office

A majority of the Senate Finance Committee joined their Assembly counterparts Monday in rejecting the governor's plan to eliminate the Governor's Office of Consumer Health.

Gov. Jim Gibbons' budget proposed eliminating that office and its 10 employees to save $926,993 over the biennium. Supporters of the office, however, say it has saved Nevadans facing huge hospital and other medical bills millions since its creation a decade ago.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said elimination of the office "would really be a hardship on the average patient."

"I really think we need to restore funding at some level because there is no other avenue for consumers to address their complaints," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, asked if there was some other agency to help citizens with medical bills they don't understand or don't believe are correct. Budget Director Andrew Clinger said some of those services are provided by the Department of Health and Human Services but there isn't a specific ombudsman to help those individuals.

Horsford moved to restore eight of the 10 positions. That, however, would require the addition of $769,600 in General Fund money, which prompted Raggio to ask the committee to wait at least until Nevada receives word the state will get a waiver of requirements to claim federal stimulus funding.

He said he agrees the office should be among the highest priorities for restored funding if money is available, "but in closing the budget, I would not support that until (the waiver issue) is resolved."

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, however, said lawmakers need to make a decision.

"It is an essential service," he said. "You just can't wait for some federal official to make a decision."

The committee voted 4-3 with Democrats for and Republicans against the decision.

That vote mirrors what the Assembly Ways and Means Committee did last week.

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