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Medicaid bailout bill clears House

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Feb. 2, 2002
JACKSON House members voted Friday to patch up Mississippi's ailing Medicaid program, sending a bill to the state Senate for more work.
We believe in the Medicaid program from the bottom of our feet to the top of our heads,'' Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said during a one-hour debate. We refuse to let this program go into degradation and despair.''
Mississippi Medicaid is running a $148 million deficit in the budget year ending June 30, and officials warn it could be broke by the end of this month.
Medicaid is a federal-state health care plan for the needy, aged, blind and disabled. The bill that passed Friday would cover about $120 million of the shortfall, and lawmakers say they're thinking of ways to cover the rest.
House members voted 95-21 for the proposal. All Lauderdale County members voted for the bill except state Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, who voted no.
The bill proposes several moneysaving changes, including requiring Medicaid patients to pay $3 for each prescription instead of the current $1, and allowing them seven prescriptions a month instead of the current 10.
State-paid fees to doctors, nursing homes and other providers would be cut 5 percent.
The bill also proposes taking millions of dollars from a tobacco trust fund this year and next, with a provision that the money be repaid in more robust economic times.
House Public Health and Welfare Chairman Bobby Moody, D-Louisville, helped create the trust fund in 1999 with winnings from Mississippi's lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
Tobacco companies pay Mississippi millions of dollars a year, depending on the level of cigarette sales. That money goes into the trust fund and the fund's earnings are reserved for health care.
Moody said he didn't want to touch the fund, but Medicaid is in crisis. He also said he was reluctant to tweak Medicaid's offerings since the program helps 22 percent of the state's population.
There's not a thing in this piece of legislation I'm proud of,'' Moody told his colleagues before the vote Friday.
Medicaid's financial crunch was created by rising enrollment and skyrocketing costs for prescriptions.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said the bill needs several changes before it hits his desk. He said the rate cuts to Medicaid providers and the reduction in patients' prescriptions are unacceptable.
We do not need to reduce access for health care, especially in rural areas,'' Musgrove said in an interview after the bill passed the House.
Lawmakers ignored plans Musgrove presented last week to shore up Medicaid.
He wanted to cover the deficit by moving $48 million from a rural roads program and then borrowing money to build roads. He also said the state could reap $100 million by requiring large businesses to submit sales tax collections weekly instead of monthly.
Tax Commission Chairman Ed Buelow told lawmakers this week that faster sales tax collections would bring no more than $50 million.
Musgrove did not propose touching the tobacco trust fund this fiscal year, but he wanted to divert tobacco payments into health programs starting in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Legislative budget analysts said using that part of the governor's plan could cause problems because it involved one time money'' funds available one year but not guaranteed the next. Musgrove said lawmakers are relying on one-time money in the bill that passed Friday.
For every $1 Mississippi puts into Medicaid, the federal government gives about $3. Musgrove said no trust fund investment would bring that kind of return.
It just seemed to make sense to me that if the proceeds of the tobacco settlement were fueled primarily by the Medicaid commission, that you would use those in a future health care plan if the return on investment far outweighed the return on putting it in a savings account and earn a small amount of interest,'' Musgrove said.
Moody said proposed changes in the bill that passed Friday would save Medicaid $50 million to $60 million a year. Officials say the program would save only a few million dollars before this budget year ends.
Moody said $108 million would be taken this budget year from the tobacco trust fund. Of that, $87 million is already in the principal of the fund and is in short-term investments.
The full $144 million payment that's due to the fund in December would be used for Medicaid. That would boost the program's budget in the fiscal year starting July 1.
How they voted:
Here is how the Lauderdale County delegation in the state House voted Friday on a proposal to bail out the state Medicaid program. House Bill 1200 passed 95-21.
Voting Yes:
Reecy Dickson, D-Macon
Tommy Horne, I-Meridian.
Billy Nicholson, D-Little Rock.
Eric Robinson, R-Quitman.
Charles Young, D-Meridian.
Voting No:
Greg Snowden, R-Meridian.