Compromise needs to be found in Medicare feud

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Someone may need to blink soon at the state Capitol.

The latest staredown between the Democratic-leaning House ofRepresentative and Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and his allies inthe Senate involves how the state will fill a $90 million Medicaidgap. With federal matching dollars, the $90 million actually meansabout $360 million for the state to provide health care services toabout a quarter of its population.

House members have considered increasing the tax on cigarettesby $1 a pack while Barbour has proposed an assessment, which mostcall a tax, on the state’s hospitals. The cigarette tax hike diedin a Senate committee earlier this session.

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Senate leaders say they are meeting daily with MississippiHospital Association and Medicaid representatives and Barbour’sstaff to craft a solution. One idea, which officials said would notinvolve a cigarette tax hike or a tax on hospitals, surfacedFriday, but details have yet to be revealed publicly.

A solution must be found, or Medicaid officials say valuableservices will have to be cut. In addition to the $90-$100 millionneeded the current fiscal year that ends June 30, lawmakers willalso need to find $260 million for the new year that begins July1.

Barbour and his allies should have an incentive to seek acompromise because his no tax increase stance is becomingincreasingly untenable.

Even some Republicans, such as new District 92 Rep. BeckyCurrie, are going against the governor on the cigarette tax hikeissue. And the more Barbour resists a cigarette tax hike, the moreopponents can claim he still has ties to his days as a lobbyist forBig Tobacco.

The clock also is ticking for House Democrats, though, as theregular session of the Legislature has only about three weeksremaining until April 19.

If the Medicaid impasse is not settled by then, the game likelywill be played in special session under the governor’s rules. Inthat scenario, Barbour could gain an upper hand via his authorityto set the session agenda and what topics can be discussed.

Thousands of Mississippians who depend on Medicaid for theirhealth care services are waiting to see how the funding fightconcludes. Regardless of which proposal is considered, thosecitizens stand to be the losers if a timely solution is not foundand services have to be cut.