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Most area lawmakers likely to back new Medicaid fund plan

State lawmakers are preparing to take up what will likely be thelast in a long line of proposals to plug an $87 million funding gapin the state’s Medicaid program.

The plan was released Tuesday after weeks of meetings anddebates between the governor’s office, Medicaid officials and theMississippi Hospital Association. The newest funding plan combinesthree existing hospital taxes into one general tax that calls for a$175 assessment on each non-Medicare bed.

The plan makes no mention of an increased tobacco tax – much thechagrin of area legislators. A tobacco tax is not scheduled to bediscussed again until Gov. Haley Barbour’s tax commission releasesits findings this fall.

In the meantime, area legislators said they are prepared tosupport the new Medicaid funding proposal. However, they still havereservations over the impact it will have on the hospitals ofLincoln and surrounding counties.

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven, said she mayvote ‘yes’ when the proposal comes before the Senate, but not untilshe examines the numbers more closely.

“As of right now, there are a lot of figures I’m going to haveto have from our hospitals to know how to best handle thissituation,” Hyde-Smith said of the remaining monetary unknowns. “Imay end up voting for it, but not until I know exactly how it’sgoing to affect my hospitals.”

Hyde-Smith said the proposal was promising based on where itoriginated – from the organizations directly responsible for itsimplementation. She is prepared, however, to start from scratch ifthe proposal harms local hospitals.

“For something this important, we’re certainly going to take ourtime looking at it,” Hyde-Smith said. “It may be the best thinggoing and the only thing left on the table, but that doesn’t meanwe can’t go back to the drawing board.

“And if it puts our hospitals on shaky financial ground, I amcertainly willing to go back to the table,” the senator continued.”I’ve got several stones left unturned before I vote for this.”

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, was of the samemind.

She said it was “pretty miraculous” that the governor’s office,Medicaid and the hospital association were able to reach thiscompromise, but she wonders if the House leadership will even allowit to be voted on. When, and if, the Medicaid proposal comes to theHouse floor, Currie said she is ready to support it.

“I’ve spoken with both of my hospital administrators and,according to the numbers and to them, this is an assessment theycan live with,” she said. “It doesn’t look like my district isgoing to come out that bad.”

Currie said KDMC and Lawrence County Hospital would not sufferunder the proposal and hinted the two institutions might actuallycome out ahead. Other hospitals in the state – those with a lowvolume of Medicaid patients – may not fare so well, she said.

With the proposal in place and working for local hospitals,Currie said any future enactment of a tobacco tax increase could beused for other improvements in the state.

“Because of this new plan, if we raise cigarette taxes next yearit would mean extra money we can spend in our districts,” she said.”The shortfall in Medicaid will be tended to, and we might actuallyhave extra money for education, economic development – extra thingswe want in our areas.”

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, did not look on thenew Medicaid funding proposal with the enthusiasm of hisassociates. Moak said the hospital assessment is not evennecessary, as other funding sources – like a tobacco tax – havebeen ignored.

“I don’t appreciate the fact we’re placing all of the $90million shortfall as a bed tax that the governor wants, becausewe’ve had several other options available to us,” he said. “We’vefilled up the Rainy Day Fund with $300 million – there is no needfor this bed tax to be instituted. We could simply take some of themoney from that fund and pay for it, match it and get our moneyfrom the federal government.”

Despite his frustration over the state government’s almostsix-month attempts to fund Medicaid, Moak said he will probablysupport the proposal in the end. He said he would support theproposal because, basically, it is all that remains.

“The hospitals have basically been starved to the point thatthey’ll take anything, and this is the ‘anything’ they’re beingforced to take,” he said. “We’ve got to take something. I’llsupport it for that reason – there are no other options.”

Moak pointed out the governor sets the agenda during a specialsession.

“Without allowing other tax mechanisms to be considered, the bedtax is our only vehicle to fund Medicaid,” Moak said.

District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, has no intentions ofsupporting the new proposal.

Since the first hospital assessment was proposed earlier thisyear, Evans has opposed any Medicaid funding solution that excludedan increase in tobacco tax. He said he would continue on thatcourse.

“My position all along was that I was not voting for any kind oftax or assessment on hospitals, and that’s still the way I intendto vote,” he said. “The hospitals look at it as being crammed downtheir throats, and I’m not gonna help cram it down their throats.There’s a lot of language trying to hide what the actually resultof this plan will be – a large tax on hospitals.”