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Lawmakers await details on plans for Medicaid fix

With only three weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakersare still uncertain of how to fill an $87 million gap inMississippi’s Medicaid budget as officials from the governor’soffice and the Mississippi Hospital Association hold closed-doormeetings in an attempt to iron out a compromise.

“There’s a few rumors circulating around that there’s some sortof negotiation going on and we may be able to get something workedout before we leave the session,” said District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak,D-Bogue Chitto. “There’s nothing concrete yet, but the right peopleare talking about it.”

Moak said he believes the Medicaid problem will not be solved bynew legislation, but by budget maneuvering. He was upset thatMedicaid appropriations made early in the session were soinadequate.

“The House put $19 million in there for Medicaid to operatewith, and the Senate came back with $1 million,” Moak complained.”That can hardly get them through a week.”

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, a member of theHouse Medicaid committee, is also irked about the lack of actiontaken earlier in the session.

“Not one time during any of my Medicaid meetings did we look atwhat services we could tighten our belts on,” she said. “Never oncedid we look for any way to find the money within the current budget- we just expanded.”

Currie said she believed the needed Medicaid funding could befound by studying and reducing or eliminating certain Medicaidservices that may be outdated or little-used.

“We spend $60 million per year on Medicaid transportation,” shesaid. “You know, does anyone ever check to see whether maybe aMedicaid patient has a relative or a church friend or someone thatcould take them to their doctor’s appointments?”

Currie, like many legislators, is still miffed about the deathof the tobacco tax in the Senate and vows to vote against anoften-discussed increase in the gross revenue tax on hospitals. Sheis worried that such a tax would hurt the hospitals in herdistrict, King’s Daughters Medical Center and Franklin CountyHospital.

“In District 92, we don’t have a St. Dominic or a River Oaks ora Baptist Medical,” she said. “We’re not doing those huge servicesthey do and not bringing in anywhere near the amount of money thatthey are.”

Currie said the director of MHA informed her that the “secret”Medicaid meeting currently occurring may be close to a compromise,though no one involved is sharing the details of the talks.

“They’ve not been forthcoming with the information,” Curriesaid. “This very likely could end up in special session if theydon’t all agree.”

Currie, who has predicted a special session on Medicaid forweeks, is not alone – the talk of the special session has grownlouder. In the event of a special session, Gov. Haley Barbour wouldset the agenda.

“He’s already got a history of keeping the Legislature insession, and I don’t know what will happen this time,” saidDistrict 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello.

Evans believes that, if a special session is called, thewidely-desired tobacco tax will resurface, along with other sintaxes.

“The governor knows how strong the sentiment is in theLegislature, certainly in the House, for the tobacco tax,” Evanssaid.