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Senate passes resolution to file Medicaid bill

The Mississippi Senate voted to allow the filing of a Medicaid bill that backers say is expected to solve a large part of the agency’s funding problem.

The chamber passed a resolution on Thursday that will let a bill be introduced past a legislative filing deadline. The House must also pass the resolution.

Medicaid is facing a nearly $100 million shortfall this fiscal year. The program will need at least an extra $168 million next fiscal year, Medicaid Executive Director Robert L. Robinson told lawmakers last fall.

House Medicaid Committee Chairman Dirk Dedeaux said it will need more than $250 million for fiscal year 2009, which begins July 1.

Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said the bill he wants to draft will be based on a proposal from the Mississippi Hospital Association. It would allow hospitals in the state to pay an assessment to generate $90 million in state funds for Medicaid. That money will help draw a 3-to-1 federal match for the health care program that serves 568,000 of the state’s needy.

Bryan, House leaders and representatives of Gov. Haley Barbour’s office have been working for weeks with the MHA on ways to plug the $90 million budget gap.

“This is getting us in the right direction,” Dedeaux said. “The House will be open to suspending the rules to consider a solution.”

For the past two years, the state has used Hurricane Katrina money for that portion of the budget, but those funds are no longer available. Before that, the hospitals had been putting up the money, but the federal government no longer allows the procedure they were using to do so.

A call to MHA for a comment wasn’t immediately returned on Thursday.

Barbour had proposed levying a gross revenue assessment, which some have called a tax, on the hospitals. The MHA balked at the idea and had supported a cigarette tax bill, which eventually died this session.

Dedeaux said the House’s plan for the cigarette tax “is still on the table,” saying it would create a continuous revenue stream for Medicaid. Dedeaux said a vote could be taken to suspend the rules to the tax, as well.

Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, was among the lawmakers who questioned whether hospitals would be negatively impacted by the bill. Horhn said he had been contacted by a hospital that said it would have to reduce services or staff if an assessment was adopted.

Bryan explained that the new proposal is not a gross revenue assessment. Bryan said it’s a $100 assessment on every non-Medicare occupied bed.

“I can’t tell you why they like that particular assessment. … They say it works,” said Bryan. “I’m not aware of any hospital anywhere who opposes this proposal.”

It was unclear if the $90 million that could be generated from the hospitals would be used to keep the Medicaid afloat through the fiscal year the ends June 30 or if it would be applied to next year.

Medicaid spokesman Francis Rullan said the program has enough money to operate through the end of the legislative session, “if our usage remains constant as it has been.” The last day of the 2008 session is April 19.

The resolution is Senate Concurrent Resolution 655.