Lawmakers to continue Medicaid session Wednesday

Published 4:31 pm Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour made no immediate cuts to the Medicaid program as the state’s new budget year started Tuesday.

However, the governor’s threat of reductions still exists as lawmakers planned to return to the Capitol Wednesday and continue a protracted special session.

Barbour said last month that he would cut millions of dollars of payments to hospitals or other Medicaid providers if lawmakers don’t approve his plan to restructure some hospital taxes to cover the program’s budget. That plan is stalled.

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In case Barbour orders the reductions, “we have all our paperwork in order and ready to go,” Division of Medicaid spokesman Francis Rullan said Tuesday.

If the governor orders changes this week, they would take effect in early August.

Officials are trying to plug a $90 million hole in Medicaid, a health care program for needy, aged, blind and disabled and for low-income families with children.

About one in four Mississippians is enrolled in Medicaid. Some hospital administrators have said they might have to fire employees if their facilities lose significant amounts of money.

The Medicaid shortfall is for the budget year that started Tuesday and ends June 30, 2009.

Some House Democrats say Barbour has created a crisis where none exists. The Democratic-led House voted last week to block the Republican governor from making any Medicaid cuts until at least next February. That House plan is unlikely to pass the Senate, which has already passed Barbour’s proposal to restructure some hospital taxes to put more money into the program.

It’s not unusual for Mississippi to start a budget year with a program such as Medicaid having millions of dollars less than its directors say it needs for 12 months. Typically, lawmakers correct the problem about halfway through the fiscal year — between January and March. They often find extra money when a healthy economy produces higher-than-expected tax collections.

Medicaid is having problems because the federal government told Mississippi three years ago to stop using part of a complicated formula to help the state bring in more federal money for the program.

Since then, Mississippi has filled holes in the Medicaid budget by either using Hurricane Katrina money from the federal government or by tapping into extra state tax collections.

Barbour, however, says it’s time to fix the problem.

House Speaker Billy McCoy, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and leaders from the House and Senate met at the Capitol Tuesday.

“He is continuing to negotiate with the speaker, and I’m sure negotiations will continue tomorrow,” Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said.