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Governor, on tour, touts Medicaid package in stop at Meridian health clinic

By Staff
MEDICAID MISSION Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, in Meridian touting a plan he hopes will salvage the state's Medicaid program from financial ruin, visits Thursday with Dr. Jacques Williams, left, Dale Beason and dental assistant Melissa Betts at the Greater Meridian Health Clinic. Photo by Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie/staff writer
Feb. 1, 2002
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove's proposal to fully cover a $148 million deficit in Medicaid funding drew support Thursday as he toured a Meridian health clinic whose services could be curtailed, but lawmakers are far from accepting the plan.
Musgrove's proposal would cover the current Medicaid deficit by taking $48 million from a rural roads program and adding $100 million by forcing the state's largest companies to pay sales taxes weekly instead of monthly. He has also proposed tapping into the state's tobacco trust fund to build up the Medicaid budget for next year.
But a bill cleared by a House committee on Wednesday would cover only about $120 million of the $148 million deficit, mostly with tobacco fund money. It would also reduce by 5 percent the amount the state reimburses Medicaid providers, such as Greater Meridian Health Clinic which Musgrove toured.
Musgrove said he is insisting that Medicaid remain fully funded. Jonathan Compretta, special assistant attorney general, said state law requires the governor to curb Medicaid spending when it is running at a deficit.
Wilbert Jones, CEO of Greater Meridian Health Clinic, said more than 30 percent of the clinic's patients are on Medicaid. He led the governor on a tour that focused on what was described as "optional" Medicaid services, such as adult dental care, prescribed drugs and Children's Health Insurance Programs.
Jones said if the patients' Medicaid benefits were reduced, the clinic would still have to provide services, but the federal dollars the clinic receives would be depleted because that money would be used for Medicaid patients who lost their state benefits.
State Sen. Sampson Jackson II, D-DeKalb, said he also wants to see Medicaid fully funded, but predicted that the Legislature won't accept the governor's total plan.
Musgrove said the Legislature is sending mixed messages. He said he would continue to work with lawmakers to solve the deficit problem in other ways, but only if it is done without reimbursement cuts or a reduction of services.
Officials said the pressing nature of the Medicaid budget will require some action during the current legislative session.