Legislators await word on special session

By Staff
from staff and wire reports
June 24, 2004
JACKSON With a new state budget year set to begin July 1, some lawmakers wonder if Gov. Haley Barbour will call a special session to undo Medicaid cuts and reauthorize the Department of Human Services.
Some legislators including Rep. Charles Young, D-Meridian, and Steve Horne, R-Meridian said they want the governor to call a special session to keep 65,000 people from being removed from Medicaid rolls July 1.
Horne agreed: "I want him to call us back particularly for Medicaid."
Barbour's spokesman, Pete Smith, would only say the governor "is still considering his options concerning Medicaid as well as DHS."
Advance notice
Governors generally give lawmakers a few days' notice before summoning them back to Jackson for special sessions.
DHS is set to go out of business when the new fiscal year starts July 1. During the regular session that ended in early May and a special session that ended two weeks ago, the House and Senate couldn't agree on plans to keep DHS alive.
State Attorney General Jim Hood has said in a nonbinding opinion that the governor can't run the agency by executive order.
The DHS deadline has led many to believe Barbour would be forced to call a special session by next week.
But some at the Capitol speculate Barbour might let the July 1 DHS deadline pass to see if anyone files a court challenge to Barbour's running the agency.
Many legislators including some of Barbour's fellow Republicans are asking the governor to put reconsideration of Medicaid cuts onto a special session agenda.
Official notice
Letters have gone out to 65,000 poor elderly and disabled people who are set to be cut off Medicaid July 1. Medicaid is paid by state and federal dollars, and officials say Mississippi should save $41 million through changes in the program.
Barbour has said 60,000 of those losing Medicaid will be covered by the federal Medicare program. Many patients worry they won't have enough prescription drug coverage.
Barbour met privately with legislative leaders last week about possibly delaying cuts until Oct. 1. But many lawmakers say they want to either delay the cuts until Dec. 31 or put all 65,000 people back on the program.
The state faces stiff financial penalties from the federal government if people now being cut off Medicaid those between 100 percent and 135 percent of the federal poverty level who also qualify for Medicare are still on Medicaid on Jan. 1, 2006.
That's when Medicare is supposed to have an extensive prescription drug benefit.
Lawmakers' views
Many lawmakers who originally voted for the Medicaid cuts now say it was a mistake to make cuts 18 months before the mandated time.
Sen. Tom King, R-Petal, said he has gotten calls from people who cry because they're worried about how to cope after losing Medicaid.
There's just too much confusion out there and too much chaos about implementing this program,'' said King, who has told Barbour he wants to delay the cuts by at least six months.
State Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said one possible problem with a special session is the hospitalization of House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi which leaves a void in House leadership.

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