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Medicaid work will be ongoing, lawmakers say

Area representatives are hopeful an agreement can be reachedthis week to address the state’s Medicaid funding crisis, and theystressed the next step then will be revamping the entiresystem.

A third proposal to address a $158 million Medicaid deficit wasapproved by the House last week, but the Senate rejected thecompromise. Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett seemed confident theSenate would come around once senators feel some pressure fromconstituents impacted the lack of funding. Over 650,000 statecitizens receive Medicaid.

“When the phone starts ringing from people with loved ones innursing homes, they’ll come around,” Barnett said.

Dist. 91 Rep. Joey Hudson was also optimistic about chances ofan agreement.

“I really think this week we’ll come to some agreement whereeverybody can live with the cuts,” Hudson said.

Hudson, a pharmacist in Monticello, said some lawmakers hadconcerns that an increase in the recipients’ co-payment on thedrugs from $1 to $3 would be an overburden on them.

Pharmacists, Hudson said, have expressed concerns about apossible dispensing fee and acquisition costs that could mean up toa 40 percent reduction for them. The lawmaker indicated a level ofunfairness to small pharmacists, many of whom rely on Medicaid intheir businesses.

“There’s been a lot of pharmacists who feel like they can’tstand that kind of cut,” Hudson said.

Hudson added that all providers — hospitals, nursing homes,pharmacists and others — will be impacted by the Medicaidaction.

“Every provider needs to realize there’s going to have to besome cuts,” Hudson said. “It’s just a fact of life.”

Both Hudson and Barnett pointed to drug companies’ actions ascontributing to the Medicaid situation.

“The cost of prescription drugs is a major part of it,” Hudsonsaid.

Citing drug cost statistics, Barnett said the average cost of 30tablets of Claritin in Canada is $5.69: in the U.S., it is $83.67.A 30-day supply of Celebrex in Canada is $11.40 while the averagein the U.S. is $61.84, the representative said.

“It’s just not right,” Barnett said.

Mentioning a conversation with a pharmacist in Texas, Barnettsaid that state allows Medicaid coverage of three prescriptiondrugs a month. Mississippi currently allows 10, but the pendingproposal would reduce that to seven.

“All we’re doing with Medicaid is putting a patch on a flattire. We need to fix the cause,” Barnett said about efforts tocorrect the current problem.

Barnett said the state must solve the emergency first and thenset out to revamp the entire Medicaid system. Hudson agreed.

“We cannot afford to continue in Mississippi with Medicaid withthe rising costs that we’re experiencing,” Hudson said.

Dist. 53 Rep. Bobby Moak indicated there may be some issueswithin Medicaid itself that are causing problems. He mentionedimproper screening of children admitted to the children’s healthinsurance program and a PEER committee check that showed someundocumented additions to the Medicaid rolls.

“There’s no doubt a lot more needs to be done in-house on theMedicaid program,” Moak said.

Regarding the current situation, Moak said lawmakers are notgoing to allow residents to be kicked out of nursing homes orsimilar situations. He suggested lawmakers pass some emergencyappropriation to “stop the bleeding” and allow more time to studyinternal problems.

“There’s some problems going on in that agency,” Moak said.

Moak said lawmakers are facing questions from constituents whoare asking whether Medicaid is taking care of people who truly needthe service or those who in fact do not.

“We need to answer that question, and we need to answer it now,”Moak said.

In other legislative matters, funding for education continues toget attention. Barnett said he had received many nice letters fromLincoln County educators, and a few not so nice, urging lawmakersto fully fund education.

Barnett, Dist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, other lawmakers andadministration officials with the state Department of Education arescheduled to meet Monday evening with the Lincoln County SchoolDistrict Board of Trustees.

Barnett said the legislature had been good to Lincoln Countyover the last few years. He said legislators and educationofficials wanted to share facts and figures about staff spendingand other budget-related items.

“We’ve got a lot to show them,” Barnett said.