Tennessee health commissioner worried about state, federal cuts

Tennessee health commissioner worried about state, federal cuts

November 15th, 2011 by Andy Sher in Local - Breaking News

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is pictured in this file photo. (Photo by Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel)

NASHVILLE - The state Health Department faces as much as $40 million in state funding cuts next year, but Commissioner John Dreyzehner's main fear is what happens if Congress begins making major cuts to the $242 million that makes up more than 40 percent of his budget.

"The thing I'm probably most worried about beyond this room? What's going on in Washington, D.C.," Dreyzehner told Gov. Bill Haslam and other officials who are conducting public hearings on the 2012-13 budget.

A bipartisan debt committee in Washington is working on a plan to cut the deficit by least $1.2 trillion and faces a Nov. 23 deadline.

Federal cuts could prove "devastating" to the agency, said Dreyzehner, whose department like other state agencies drew up contingency plans for cuts of up to 30 percent in federal funding.

In addition, Haslam has asked state agencies to provide plans to cut up to 5 percent in state funding. That would hurt primary health care centers that provide services for low-income people who don't qualify for the state's TennCare program. An estimated 170,000 people could be affected.

Meanwhile, the department faces loss of one-time money that has kept "core services" going in a number of areas. Haslam said some of those services are so key that they will likely be maintained.