Bringing the Economy Home

Idaho’s Health And Welfare Director Sets Different Tone For Budget Process

Courtesy Dept. Health and Welfare

Dept. of Health and Welfare director Richard Armstrong.

After the recession years of cutting staff and budgets at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, the department’s director says the agency is now “hanging on” and is asking lawmakers to fund 24.9 new full time positions.

Health and Welfare director Dick Armstrong approached the Legislature’s main budget panel yesterday with a different tone from years past. He suggested the budget cutting over the last few years has been good for the agency.

“We are not looking to restore any benefits that were reduced over the past few years,” Armstrong said to lawmakers. “We have to hold on to those savings, for many of them helped us focus on paying for value.”

Paying for value, Armstrong says, means his agency’s goal is to move away from fee-for-service medical care. “It becomes units of service that’s important, as opposed to what the outcome is. We’re shifting toward a more outcomes-oriented measure of success,” says Armstrong.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is the state’s largest agency, it currently has about 2,860 employees. Nearly 22 percent of Idaho’s general fund budget goes to Health and Welfare. Because of its size, the agency was hit-hard by budget cuts from 2007-2012. During that five-year period, the department laid off 300 employees. That doesn’t include people who quit, retired, or jobs the agency decided not to fill.

So when Dick Armstrong presented his budget requests to legislators last year, he asked for help retaining the employees he had left. His assessment was downbeat.

“Any further reductions would have a much greater impact for participants, providers and services,” Armstrong said to the budget committee last year. Armstrong explained he has a hard time keeping his current employees because of stress, increased workload and better pay in the private sector.

“There is a little bit different tone, yes,” Armstrong said yesterday. “What we were talking about last year in cuts was further cuts to our workforce.”

Armstrong says he couldn’t begin asking lawmakers for more employees until he was certain the current workers were being as productive as possible. “We’re hanging on. We’re able to deliver the quality services we want,” Armstrong says. “And we’re now asking for more employees because we can’t continue to add more work without adding more employees.”

Data Source: Idaho Legislature Budget Books

*The dollar amounts for FY 2013 and FY 2014 are not final, the chart shows the appropriated (FY 2013) and requested (FY 2014) figures.

Rising Medicaid enrollment has been a main driver of the Department of Health and Welfare’s budget increases.

The department’s budget request includes 24.9 new full time staff positions, and a total budget that’s 6.9 percent larger than fiscal year 2013. The total budget request for 2014, including federal funds, is $2.53 billion.


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