The federal stimulus program has yet to become law, but it might already have succeeded in saving a state hospice program for dying patients too young for Medicare.
About 125 hospice patients in the state are too young to qualify for Medicare, the health care program for seniors. They are funded entirely by Medicaid, which provides health care for indigents. But South Carolina's Medicaid agency, struggling with the loss of $137 million in state funds since July, had planned to eliminate the hospice program at the end of the month.
One of the patients enrolled in the program is 6-month-old Makaylah Graham of Catawba, whose story was featured on the front page of Saturday's Herald. Makaylah, born with only half a brain, is not expected to live to her first birthday.
Her mother, Brandy Graham, relies on help from hospice nurse Jo Kornegay to care for Makaylah, and Graham could not afford that care without money from Medicaid. Patients such as Makaylah make up 6 percent of all hospice patients in South Carolina.
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However, hospice was the only nonmandated program the state could cut, according to Joel Sawyer, a spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford. The choice was to completely cut Medicaid for hospice patients or to make a proportional cut for all those covered.
Now, however, it appears the agency won't have to make that heart-wrenching choice. If Congress approves increased funding for Medicaid through the stimulus program as expected, the cut won't be necessary.
Agency officials say the challenge now is to ensure the hospice program continues in the 2009-2010 state budget. That would require an estimated $1.6 million from the state and roughly $6 million from the federal government.
We think the program deserves funding. Helping needy South Carolinians, whatever their age, to die with dignity should remain a top priority.