Medicaid patients need funding solution now

Published 5:00 am Monday, June 23, 2008

In March, we suggested it was time for someone at the Capitol toblink and agree to a compromise over how to fill a $90 million gapin funding for the state’s Medicaid program.

That was near the end of the regular legislative session.

As we all know, the session ended with no resolution, andlawmakers have since been called back to Jackson for a specialsession to solve the looming crisis. That session has produced noresults and legislators are to return Thursday to take another stabat the issue before the state’s new fiscal year starts July 1.

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Despite what was deemed a “cooling off” period, tensions,stubbornness and politics between Gov. Haley Barbour, and hisSenate allies, and Speaker of the House Billy McCoy, and hislieutenants in the House, are still running high.

What’s changed between now and March, though, is that Barbourhas upped the ante by threatening to cut Medicaid services if hishospital tax plan is not approved. McCoy has flatly refused toconsider the plan, preferring instead to raise the tax on tobaccoas well as tapping the state’s Rainy Day Fund if needed.

As the new fiscal year approaches, hospitals are forecasting ableak picture should the cuts become a reality. For this area’sfacilities, it’s not a pretty picture.

Franklin County Memorial Hospital has already implemented somelayoffs due to some uncertainty over the Medicaid situation.Administrator Lance Moak said last week the hospital “wouldn’t beopen but a month or two” if the proposed cuts are enacted. InLawrence County the estimated shortfall is around $300,000 inBrookhaven close to $2 million.

The reason is that rural hospitals have a high percentage ofMedicaid or Medicare patients. Moak said 88 percent of his patientsare covered through those programs.

Most hospitals across the state are supporting the governor’stax plan because it will mean more revenue for them in the form ofMedicaid reimbursements.

King’s Daughters Medical Center, for example, would have a netgain of $1.0 million. The hospitals in Lawrence, Franklin and Pikecounties would also see net gains.

Many hospital administrators, though, add a caveat “in thecurrent political environment” to their support calls. They saythey would like to see a cigarette tax increase, but also realizethat is not under consideration by Barbour.

The governor’s steadfast opposition to a tobacco tax increasemakes some question his motives, but McCoy has been equally asstubborn – if not more so – in challenging Barbour to force anincrease.

The speaker’s calling the governor’s plan a “sick tax” reeks ofpolitics designed to curry favor and support among those who relyon Medicaid for their health care. And his idea for dipping intothe Rainy Day Fund suggests some head-in-the-sand fiscalirresponsibility – for such an idea simply postpones the problemwhile draining financial reserves.

A Medicaid summit held Thursday found no compromise, thus thestalemate continues and the clock is ticking.

If there is no break in the current staredown between executiveand legislative leaders, citizens across the state won’t care aboutwho should blink first. They will be too busy worried about what todo about health care should they start to wince in pain.