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'Real divides' in health care budget slowing budget progress

Persistent differences between the House and Senate over how to handle hospital, nursing homes and mental health budgets have prompted rumors that budget negotiations will be "bumped up" on Thursday to the House and Senate budget chiefs JD Alexander and Denise Grimsley. The conference committee met briefly Thursday night and is scheduled to meet again on Friday morning but the differences are wide.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos conceded Thursday afternoon that "there are some real divides'' over the HHS budget and "it could be troublesome." Among the differences: the Senate cuts payments to mental health and substance abuse programs while the House cuts payments to nursing homes and each side treats cuts to hospital funding differently.

If the negotiations get handed to Alexander and Grimsley, Democratic Leader Nan Rich vowed Thursday to be in the room -- to make sure they make the right allocations, she said.

As an at-large member of the budget conference committee, Rich said she wants to be present to watchdog the two leaders. She has also served as vice chairman of the budget subcommittee on HHS and vice chair of the Children, Family and Elder Services committee and wants to find a way to minimize the impact of the cuts.

"Of all the areas of the budget, the Health and Human Services budget has an impact on so many people's lives,'' Rich said. "If you bump it up and put it in the hands of fewer people, people have concerns about what is taking place."
Haridopolos predicted that despite the differences, they will be worked out on schedule by Tuesday.