House and Senate members got a look Tuesday at the scope of possible Medicaid cuts that will be needed next fiscal year when there will be as much as $400 million more in needs than in money available.

House and Senate members got a look Tuesday at the scope of possible Medicaid cuts that will be needed next fiscal year when there will be as much as $400 million more in needs than in money available.

"It is going to be a tumultuous time," Sen. Percy Malone, D-Arkadelphia, told members of the House and Senate public welfare committees. "The state Medicaid program will have to be modified."

Legislators worked to ensure they stay informed on Medicaid administrators' plans to make cuts.

The Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday advanced a proposal that would require the House and Senate public health committees to review any proposed Medicaid cuts before they take effect. The measure was included in the budget for the Department of Human Services, which administers Medicaid.

Rep. Gregg Reep, the House Public Health Committee Chairman, noted that the review would be in addition to any review by other legislative panels.

"We believe this strengthens the Legislature's ability to have input on the changes being made," said Reep, D-Warren.

State Department of Human Services Director John Selig told House and Senate public health panel members Tuesday that the agency would keep its budget flat next year at $3.36 billion. More people are expected to qualify for Medicaid coverage next year, and the agency will have to serve them without a budget increase.

The Arkansas Medicaid program serves 750,000 people over the course of a year, about a quarter of the state's population.

Options for cutting the budget include reducing the number of people receiving services, limiting the services covered under the program or reducing the use of some services.

The panel didn't vote on any specific plans but members agreed to hold more meetings in the coming months so affected parties can be heard.

"Everything is on the table," state Medicaid director Gene Gessow said.

Gessow suggested that legislators not adopt across-the-board cuts, which he said other states have done. He called that method a "non-strategy" for addressing the budget problem.

A small cut could have more severe consequences in some programs than others, he said.

"I think we're going to need more time," Sen. Randy Laverty, D-Jasper said.

Laverty said businesses that provide services to Medicaid patients operate on very thin margins and may have to lay off workers, or worse, with cuts in the budget.

"Many of these programs operate on a shoestring," Laverty said.

Malone, the Senate Public Health Committee chairman, said the panel has months to review possible cuts and their effects.

"I don't think much would happen before July 1," the start of the next fiscal year, Malone said.

A number of legislators, Laverty among them, asked Selig and Gessow to try to root out fraud within the program.