The political rhetoric and posturing continues for state agencies as their financial future remains on hold until February, uncertain whether the state will allow them to run a deficit to pay for health care for the state’s poor.

Members of the S.C. Budget and Control Board delayed its decision to allow the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to run a $228 million deficit. Without the board’s approval, DHHS will run out of money and halt payments to doctors, specialists and other health care providers who treat Medicaid patients.

So, what does that mean to the patients? Services will be eliminated starting in February. The agency has already announced cuts to dental services, end-of-life hospice care, prescription drugs for diabetics, and other optional services for the poor and elderly.

It means they will wind up in emergency departments or refrain from getting care. For those that do use the emergency department, it is not the right place to receive the care they are seeking. It just happens to be the cheapest for the patient at that moment. Most emergency rooms do not charge a fee to be seen.

However, the opposite can happen. We heard hundreds of stories from patients at SC Mission 2010 in Greenville held in August. The two-day free medical, vision and dental clinic assisted about 2,000 people. The patients who received care there said they weren’t frequenters of emergency departments. They refrained from receiving care completely. Some patients said they hadn’t received care in years because they didn’t have the money to pay for it.

What is most beneficial for the patient? Is it better to seek treatment in an emergency department? Or is it better to refrain from care all together? With the cuts to the Medicaid program, it seems that patients won’t have very many choices.

What would you do?