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Advocates urge elimination of in-person Medicaid interviews

A group of health advocates wants Gov. Haley Barbour to direct the Division of Medicaid to end the in-person interviews required for people to reapply for the program.

“The governor needs to end the program now. He can end it with an e-mail or the stroke of a pen,” Jason Pollan, an attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice, said Monday during a news conference at the Capitol.

The 2008 legislative session ended last week with funding for the Medicaid program unresolved. A sticking point was the face-to-face recertification. Lawmakers couldn’t agree on eliminating the program. Barbour has said the program is an effective tool.

Barbour said he will call a special session in the coming months to address Medicaid.

“The face-to-face re-determination has proven to be one of the great strengths of the Mississippi Medicaid program,” Barbour spokesman Pete Smith said Monday. “It’s helping ensure only eligible and qualified people receive benefits, and is giving program specialists an opportunity to discuss the overall health issues with the Medicaid recipient.”

Medicaid serves a fourth of Mississippi’s population. Most of those covered are children, but the elderly and disabled also are eligible.

Critics of the program say it puts a burden on people who don’t have transportation to reach Medicaid offices for interviews. Earlier this year, Pollan released a report that showed that many of the Medicaid offices where interviews are to be held have limited hours of operation, and some do not open at all.

Supporters of the program have said it helps weed out fraud, but on Monday the advocates said there hasn’t been any fraud case detected through the program. Instead, they said, thousands of people have been dropped from the roll.

Eighty-five percent of those dropped from the program were children, said Lynn Evans, a spokeswoman for the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Medicaid Executive Director Robert L. Robinson has said the program gives families the opportunity to interact with Medicaid representatives who can inform them of other programs and help them find a permanent place to receive medical care.