Barbour: Miss. Medicaid payments will be delayed

Published 2:51 am Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Mississippi Medicaid program is sending letters out to health care providers warning them that payments will be delayed until after July 1 as top lawmakers struggle to agree on a state budget.

While the letters were being sent out Friday, House Speaker Bill McCoy accused Gov. Haley Barbour of seeking to become a “dictator” by not compromising on his proposal for a hospital tax while House and Senate leaders make progress in negotiations.

Medicaid remains a sticking point in the nearly $5 billion budget.

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Barbour said Friday that the Medicaid shortfall had been anticipated to be about $20 million for the fiscal year, which ends June 30, but it now appears the health insurance program for the needy is $34 million short.

Speaking at a news conference, he said letters were being sent to providers by the Division of Medicaid to inform them about the delay, but it would have “no affect whatsoever on any Medicaid beneficiary. Will not effect services. Will not affect eligibility for claims to be made by any beneficiary.”

“Medicaid’s deficit is caused because Medicaid’s spending in the last couple of months, or since spring, has increased at a faster rate than anticipated,” Barbour said.

The governor said the letters are an example of how agencies are left in limbo while House and Senate negotiators try to reach a compromise for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Barbour has been pushing for a $90 million annual tax on hospitals to help pay for Medicaid. He said it’s only fair for hospitals to start paying a tax again, since they paid a similar one until 2005.

The Mississippi Hospital Association opposes the tax proposal and some lawmakers say many rural hospitals would be placed in jeopardy by a $90 million tax as proposed.

Barbour said Friday he’s willing to compromise by putting the tax on a sliding scale with $60 million for the upcoming fiscal year, $75 million the next year, and then $90 million. So far, he said, that compromise has been spurned.

“The House has verbally offered a gross increase of the hospital tax of about $60 million,” Barbour said. “However, that would not be a net tax reinstatement because they want to eliminate some savings that have been made.”

The governor said he “offered the Legislature a balance budget in May. I offered them a balance budget in November. The Legislature chose not to take it.”

Barbour said he would call legislators back for a special session to vote on a budget only when a deal is reached. But Rep. Cecil Brown said Barbour made it clear Friday that he will not call legislators back until “we do it his way.”

“It is not a matter of a three-way agreement. What he’s saying is until I agree. Until I, the governor, sets the budget,” Brown said.

He said Barbour’s budget had serious problems. “And we are not going to do this,” Brown said. “We’re not going to damage our hospitals and close our local hospitals.”

Brown said he was now “a little bit frightened” about the chance of not reaching a deal.

McCoy said it was wrong for Barbour to force House and Senate leaders to reach a compromise that the governor deems as a good deal before calling a special session.

“We are not to be held hostage by a governor,” McCoy said. “Not this governor or any governor has the right to find a way to be a dictator in this state … and Gov. Barbour is seeking to be a dictator,” he said.