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With Medicaid funding returning to normal, what's in store for the next budget?

Dental offices have begun seeing patients return for routine procedures. Seattle dentist Kathleen Saturay has increased the layers of protective equipment she wears when treating patients.
Governor Ralph Northam hinted that he wanted to see more money for mental health and dental care in Medicaid budgets. He'll present his proposals in a budget coming next month.

Virginia's Medicaid program cost hundreds of millions of dollars less than usual due to effects from the pandemic. While the unusual causes for that created issues for the state's budget planners, their forecasts indicate funding and budgeting will go back to normal.

Virginia is set to save about $650 million on Medicaid for the current fiscal year, since the federal government paid the state more during the pandemic and people who use Medicaid delayed or skipped out on medical treatment.

That made planning the budget harder: planners typically use the current fiscal year's spending, remove one time expenditures, and make a few adjustments to come up with a benchmark for the next two years of spending.

But it looks like the next budget will be back to normal, according to budget briefings by legislative staff. Medicaid forecast changes for the last four two-year budgets increased around $800 million, with the exception of the last budget, which was only $40 million. This upcoming cycle is projected to be just under $822 million.

We still don’t know Medicaid's share of Governor Ralph Northam's outgoing budgets, which he will begin to present next month. Northam did hint at more money for certain medical treatments.

"There's a tremendous need for mental health, dentists, [and] health providers. So we've got to make sure that that our reimbursements are where they should be for our Medicaid providers. And, and we need to encourage individuals that haven't sought medical treatment for whatever reason. to get in there and get their medical needs taken care of," he said following a meeting of Governor's Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates Monday.

Many people who enrolled in Medicaid during the pandemic might be taken off the program next year. As the economy continues to reopen, many people that were laid off might be insured through a new job. Local social service workers will have to make those determinations. That process begins early next year and is estimated to take about 10 months.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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