Medicaid remains sticking point in Miss. budget

Published 1:16 pm Wednesday, June 17, 2009

House and Senate negotiators say they are closer to reaching a budget compromise after they met twice on Monday, even though they did not resolve any fiscal issues still in dispute, including Medicaid.

However, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee and Rep. Cecil Brown both said they’re closer to reaching a budget compromise before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

“We didn’t agree on specific things in there. We were able to explain our positions. Just from the tone of it, we’re closer,” Brown, D-Jackson, said Monday after meeting in the office of Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant surrounded by nearly two dozen onlookers.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Medicaid is the main sticking point in the nearly $5 billion budget. Gov. Haley Barbour wants lawmakers to approve a $90 million hospital tax to help cover the costs of the program that provides health care coverage to Mississippi’s elderly, disabled and poor.

Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, has said he’s willing to accept a $60 million hospital tax. The House doesn’t want to go above $57 million.

But Medicaid Chairman Dirk Dedeaux, D-Perkinston, said Monday the issue isn’t the figure. He said the Senate plan would allow additional cuts to Medicaid.

“The Senate leaves the door open to balance the entire budget on cuts to hospitals. Everybody has a hospital in their community,” Dedeaux said.

The Mississippi Hospital Association, which opposes the tax proposal, postponed a meeting scheduled for Tuesday in Madison. MHA spokeswoman Shawn Lea said in a statement that officials hope the negotiations on Medicaid and other budget issues will be resolved by week’s end.

MHA released a list of protections the organization would like lawmakers to include in any tax increase approved for hospitals. Among those is a request that hospital payments for treating Medicaid patients not be reduced.

Barbour is expected back from a trip to Paris by the end of this week, said his spokesman, Dan Turner. Barbour traveled to France to get support for a U.S. military defense contract for a factory proposed in Mobile, Ala. The factory would make aerial refueling tanker jets, and Barbour has said many of those jobs would go to Mississippians.

Barbour will call legislators back for a special session to vote on a budget once a deal is reached.

But Brown criticized the governor for leaving the state amid tense negotiations.

“It’s hard to talk to the governor if he’s in France,” Brown said.