Sen. Hyde-Smith sees health care, correctional funding as top worry

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 7, 2008

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said she expects a battle overMedicaid to color things in the Senate for the upcoming 2008Legislative Session.

Hyde-Smith, who has been in office since 2000, said she thinksthe other major issue will be correctional funding.

“We will be short of money, we already know that,” she said,adding the state is currently being “devoured by the Medicaidbudget.”

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Medicaid has been growing as an issue over the years, Hyde-Smithsaid, especially with the number of people who are on it and thefact that they are unafraid to use emergency rooms fornon-life-threatening illnesses.

“One of our biggest problems is so many Medicaid patients who goto the emergency room for non-life threatening illnesses. They’llhave a cold and go to the ER, and they don’t have to pay anything,”she said. “We’ll have this problem until we can get a handle on themindset of the Medicaid recipients. In my opinion, that’s abusingthe system.”

Mississippi’s health, or lack thereof, is causing more of astrain on the Medicaid budget as well, Hyde-Smith said.

“We can’t continue this because we’ll be consumed by theMedicaid budget. We’re the number one obese state in the nation,and the things that come along with that are major healthconcerns,” she said. “Insulin-dependent diabetes is a huge problemin our state, as are cardiac problems and hypertension.”

Hyde-Smith said the best way to battle the health problemsfacing our state are to hit its citizens while they are young.

” You can’t legislate the choices people make, but in my opinionthe best thing we can do is educate the younger ones coming upabout healthy choices,” she said, adding that she believes softdrink machines should be taken out of every school in the state,leaving students to choose between the more healthy water andjuices.

The correctional budget is going to be crucial too, Hyde-Smithsaid, as facilities across the state are flooded with drugoffenders. Hyde-Smith said most drug offenders are repeatoffenders, and that something must be done to help decrease therecidivism rate among substance abuse offenders.

“We have so many people being incarcerated right now withsubstance abuse,” she said. “And with the 80 percent law, we’re nothaving a lot of relief and we’re keeping them a lot longer. Therecidivism rate is incredible – it’s a revolving door.”

Hyde-Smith said she plans to take a firm stand on Drug Courtfunding. Her bill in 2004 added $10 to every traffic ticket to goto fund Drug Courts around the state.

“It’s not pretty, but it’s the only way I could get it funded,”she said.

She said Drug Court’s track record speaks for itself.

“Drug Court does work; we’ve proven that right here inBrookhaven,” she said.

The program is successful, she said, because it makes itsenrollees have to be more accountable to authorities and gives themsomewhere to turn if the temptation to backslide arises.

“With Drug Court, you spoon feed them. You hold their hand allthe way through it,” she said. “You only have to go once a month toparole officer, and while normal adults might can stay on thestraight and narrow, the clientele at DOC need to be supervisedvery closely or they’re going to get another conviction.”

In addition to the recidivism, Hyde-Smith said, the drug problemitself is not getting smaller either.

“Crack cocaine is ruining this world. There are a lot ofproblems out there. They’re expensive problems and they fall in ourlap,” she said. “Drug Court is not always 100 percent, but it’sbetter than anything else we’ve got going by a long shot.”

Hyde-Smith said she expects the Mississippi Adequate EducationProgram to be funded, and said the Mississippi School of the Artsshould be “just fine.” However, she expects many programs to beaffected by the funding crunch on Medicaid and corrections.

Among other issues she said she expects to see come up is thehotly contested tobacco tax.

“And for the gazillionth time, hopefully we can get voter ID.It’s crazy not to have it,” she said.

In summation, Hyde-Smith said she expects this session to bedifferent, especially with Lt. Governor Phil Bryant in office.

“In the Senate, the wind of change is blowing. And when I’maround Bryant, I feel the breeze,” she said. “He is definitelymotivated to do things differently, and I look forward to workingwith him.”