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Area lawmakers back veto override

Lincoln County lawmakers expect quick action Friday when theLegislature reconvenes to override Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s Medicaidbill vetoes, but they say curing the health program’s ills willtake more time.

“I figure we’ll be there no more than an hour, override the vetoand go home,” said Dist. 92 Rep. Jim Barnett.

Barnett acknowledged deficiencies in the Medicaid program, butindicated lawmakers are set on pursuing their own course ofaction.

“It’s a bad situation we have, but we want to go ahead with ourMedicaid plan,” Barnett said. “We’re going to have to do ourbest.”

Dist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith also expected an override. Shesaid some lawmaker-approved measures, such as cutting the number ofMedicaid-covered prescriptions a month, will mean big savings andthose need time to take effect.

“We’re doing several things that will cut down on expenses,”Hyde-Smith said. “We need to give those time to work, realize thesavings and apply it to the areas where it is needed most.”

In the vetoed budget bill, Medicaid is facing a $120 milliondeficit next year.

With a federal 3-to-1 match, the deficit could be as much as$480 million. But lawmakers contend the measures in a companioncost-cutting bill, which was also vetoed, will lower thedeficit.

Barnett agreed with Tim Ford, speaker of the House, and Lt. Gov.Amy Tuck about the governor’s use of “scare tactics” regardingclosure of nursing homes.

“In my opinion, no one will be kicked out of nursing homes,”Barnett said. “That would be the last thing cut.”

Hyde-Smith agreed.

“This legislature is not going to let that happen,” the senatorsaid. “We’ve got too many areas to cut before we do that.”

Dist. 53 Rep. Bobby Moak said he will support overriding theveto.

However, Moak said he had a “huge problem” with funding Medicaidwith some of the funds from the tobacco lawsuit settlement.Medicaid money is taking about $200 million from the fund over atwo-year period, Moak said.

“I don’t think we should be dipping into that money,” Moak said,adding that doing so should be a signal to lawmakers that it’s timeto fix the problem. “Once you start slicing, it’s going to be hardto not slice it again.”

Moak said dealing with Medicaid has been frustrating.

“I don’t think this budget is going to fix the problem,” Moaksaid. “We’re still just throwing money at it.”

Lawmakers indicated more money is not the answer to solving theMedicaid program’s woes. Moak and Barnett called for changes inprogram operation.

“This program has problems,” Moak said. “I don’t believe thegovernor’s office or the legislature know what we need to knowabout this program.”

Moak said he believes the program could be run a lot better. Hesaid the legislature and the governor must stop the “back andforth” arguments and “suck up their pride” while working out asolution.

“It’s time to sit down and cure this problem,” Moak said.

Moak said the state needs to get outside expertise from thosewho have dealt with Medicaid problems before. Then, he said,officials must have the courage to follow through on suggestedimprovements.

“If not, it will bankrupt this state,” Moak said.

Barnett said the state’s Medicaid eligibility standards must berevised.

“There’s too many people out there with good jobs being coveredby Medicaid,” Barnett said. “Those must be weeded out.”

Barnett said the formula for drug coverage also must be furtherrevised.

Suggesting that some drugs may not be needed, the lawmaker saidMedicaid recipients will get the maximum number of prescriptionsallowed per month. Efforts this year reduced the number ofMedicaid-covered drugs from 10 a month to five, but Barnett saidTexas allows only three a month.

Moak said Medicaid had grown beyond the concept of what manypeople think it should be.

“Medicaid is not health care for citizens of this state,” Moaksaid. “It is health care for people actually in need of theprogram.”