@NCCapitol

Budget woes will challenge new DHHS secretary

Posted January 18, 2012

The incoming head of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday that he expects one of his biggest challenges as interim chief to be the budget.

Al Delia, who has worked for three years as Gov. Bev Perdue's senior policy adviser, said he's not sure how he will be able to meet the state's budget requirements by close of the fiscal year.

The department receives $4.5 billion in state funds – or nearly a quarter of the state's budget – to run Medicaid, mental health facilities, social services and other health programs.

The General Assembly last year, however, cut nearly $1 billion in funding for the department from the two-year state budget. Add in the loss of federal matching dollars, and the number more than doubles.

Some patient advocates have heard that Delia is known as a consensus builder, but with Perdue, a Democrat, and the Republican-led legislature at odds, that might prove difficult.

"My assumption going in is that the legislature is not intent on hurting people," Delia said.

DHHS is currently facing a Medicaid shortfall of roughly $150 million.

Delia said Perdue can only take action in the case of an emergency.

The shortfall can either be fixed with more legislative funding or deeper cuts. He indicated Perdue would wait for an emergency before having to make those cuts.

"I would hope we don't have to govern that way," Delia said. "If we govern that way, it is a failure of the legislature to act."

Delia replaces Secretary Lanier Cansler, who will step down from the post Jan. 31 to head a new commission that Perdue has yet to assemble on affordable health care in the state.

Delia takes over Feb. 1.

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