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Medicaid cure, not quick fix, needed

Financial times are tough for Mississippi, and the struggle toshore up the state Medicaid program, which is sinking in a sea ofred ink, has put new focus on the seriousness of the situation.

The program is running a $148 million deficit in the budget yearthat ends June 30. Officials have warned it could be broke by theend of this month.

No doubt, Medicaid — a federal-state health care plan for theneedy, aged, blind and disabled — is important to Mississippi.Twenty-two percent of the state’s population receive its assistancein some way. Medicaid’s services are vital to the state’s needy andelderly residents living on fixed incomes.

The House passed a bill Friday to keep Medicaid afloat inMississippi, but the legislation covers only $120 million of theshortfall. The bill will now be considered by the Senate.

Several money-saving changes are proposed in the House bill,such as requiring Medicaid patients to pay $3 for each prescriptioninstead of the current $1, and allowing them seven prescriptions amonth instead of the current 10. Doctors, nursing homes and otherproviders would see a 5 percent cut in their state-paid fees.

The legislation also stipulates that millions of dollars fromthe tobacco trust fund will be used this year and next to boostMedicaid, with the funds being repaid in more robust economictimes.

The current financial crunch is blamed on rising enrollment andskyrocketing costs for prescriptions. Reports of the state spendingclose to $200,000 in recent months for the drug Viagra indicatethat tighter restrictions are needed on what Medicaid does and doesnot cover.

While the Legislature’s focus now is just to keep the programoperating — and they will do that — their ultimate goal should beto keep such a crisis from reoccurring.

The tobacco trust fund certainly should not be used as aBand-Aid to patch up state financial ills.