Local News

Proposal To Slash Money From State Health Care Budget Draws Ire Of Advocates

Posted May 9, 2002 6:00 a.m. EDT

— State lawmakers are crunching numbers again to solve the budget crisis. One proposal on the table slashes $345 million from the Health and Human Services Department, which includes programs for the elderly, mentally ill and sick children.

On Thursday, hundreds of health care advocates, including some patients in wheelchairs, faced off with a legislative budget committee about cutting their programs.

Crystal Bledsoe's personal stake in lobbying lawmakers for a piece of the state budget is her two children, 6-year-old Michael and 2-year-old Christopher. Both have a rare genetic disorder.

"Their life could end at any moment," Bledsoe said.

Bledsoe and a group called Family Voices want to establish a first-in-the-nation medical day care for sick children.

"It would provide families the opportunity to place the children in child care settings, but have nurses as a prior caregiver instead of a child care worker," Bledsoe said.

Bledsoe took her pitch to state lawmakers. She was joined by hundreds of chronically ill patients and health care advocates. One by one, they made their pitch to save their program. Many offered the solution of raising taxes.

"Given a choice between the distasteful and the disgraceful, choose the path of honor. Do not plug this budget hole with the blood and tears of children. Plug it with taxes," said Tom Bennett of the Child Fatality Task Force.

"For example, tax loophole for corporations should be ended, raise taxes, work with the North Carolina delegation to assist on federal assistance and use other sources of available state money," said Paula Wolf of the group Covenant with Children.

Thursday's hearing was seen as a gauge of public response. The final recommendations will be considered when lawmakers meet later in May for work on the budget.