/ Modified mar 5, 2013 7:57 a.m.

Cuts Expected to Medicare, Food Assistance

Sequester may indirectly but significantly impact local agencies

The impact of the sequester, or federal budget cuts starting this month, will be personal for some people who may see their salaries cut. But it will also indirectly affect other people and services in Southern Arizona.

Hospitals will see a 2 percent cut in the amount of money they receive when doctors see a patient on Medicaid, said Julia Strange, a vice president at Tucson Medical Center.

For TMC, Strange said, the cut could be about $3.9 million, which is about a third of the hospital's operating cost for last year. This comes on top of other cuts to Medicare reimbursements, and state budget cuts, she said.

"We continue to work to reduce the cost to provide care," she said. The cuts will be difficult, she said, because the hospital, which is a nonprofit agency, is already operating on "very thin" margins.

The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association predicts the sequester budget cuts could cost the state 10,000 health care jobs, but Strange said TMC is not expecting to lay off any employees.

The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona receives some federal funds to do its job, but Jack Parris, the community relations manager at the food bank, said the impact of the budget cuts is likely to drive up the need for food assistance.

Even though food stamps and governmental food assistance programs are not targeted in the federal budget cuts, other reductions, such as military spending, could mean more people turn to the food bank for help, he said.

"There will be layoffs in the military, there will be layoffs in industries that provide equipment and things like that for the military. These families will be looking probably for more help than they already are receiving, so that's where we expect to see more people from," Parris said.

The food bank supplies 27,000 pounds of food to five Southern Arizona counties, and Parris said he expects the cuts to mean another 1,000 families could turn to the food bank for help.

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