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Lawmakers favor special session on Medicaid, DHS

Like their colleagues and constituents, Lincoln County lawmakersare keeping an eye on the Governor’s Mansion as a Thursday deadlineon Medicaid and the Department of Human Services nears.

Thursday, the start of the state’s new fiscal year, is the daythat 65,000 Medicaid recipients are to be shifted to Medicarecoverage and DHS is to cease to exist. Lawmakers are waiting to seeif Gov. Haley Barbour will call a special session to address thecontroversial Medicaid situation and to reauthorize DHS.

“It is certainly my hope that he will call us into specialsession to address Medicaid and the 65,000 that are to betransitioned,” said Dist. 39 Cindy Hyde-Smith, who also expressedconcerns about 45,000 children on the DHS case load.

Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett also hopes for a special sessionchance.

“I hope we can change this, because it is wrong,” Barnettsaid.

Dist. 53 Rep. Bobby Moak said the legislature is “wide open” tohaving a special session. Through Sunday, lawmakers had notreceived word of a special session.

“If he is, he is for whatever reason, waiting until the lastminute,” Moak said.

Moak speculated that Barbour is awaiting federal word on waiversto allow 18,000 Medicaid recipients to remain covered.

“I expect some of those to come through,” Moak said. “But evenso, we’ve still got 40,000 who are being left in the lurch thatwe’ve got to take care of.”

Lawmakers are concerned that those being moved off Medicaid willnot be able to pay for needed prescription drugs under Medicareallowances. Under dual eligibility, Moak pointed out that someMedicaid recipients are already under Medicare.

“We’re not doing anything new for them,” Moak said.

Hyde-Smith expressed support for delaying the Medicaid changesuntil January. Currently, the only suggestions have been to delayuntil October.

Instead of recipients in the Poverty Level Aged Disabled (PLAD)category, Barnett said the legislature should take a close look atremoving those who are on Medicaid fraudulently.

“Those are the ones we ought to take off,” Barnett said, addingthat he supported Barbour’s plan for six-month recertification. “Itwould take thousands and thousands off.”

Medicaid officials estimate it will take up over $60 million tocontinue coverage. Barnett speculated that could be taken from thetobacco trust fund while Moak said the cost could be covered bysavings during the regular session.

“We’ve already made cuts in other areas for $105 million insavings,” Moak said.

Regarding DHS operations, Moak said Barbour could expect an”immediate legal challenge” should the governor try to continue torun the agency by executive order. Moak cited an Attorney General’sopinion indicating the governor did not have that authority.

While reauthorizing DHS for another year could be a simplematter, Moak said the DHS legislation is the only avenue foraddressing the Medicaid issues. He expected the House would followthe same path should a special session be called.

In 1999, when the legislature expanded Medicaid rolls to coverpeople making up to 135 percent of the poverty level, Moak said thestate received additional federal funds.

Moak said no one could have anticipated the federal governmentceasing the additional funding, as it is scheduled to do in January2006. He said the group targeted for Medicaid changes is not goingto go away.

“We might as well start dealing with it now,” Moak said.