By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Democrats handed Republican Gov. Haley Barbour two decisive setbacks Thursday in the state Senate, where his proposals traditionally have carried the day.
The Senate voted to eliminate the hospital tax that Barbour has supported to cover an ongoing shortfall in the Division of Medicaid.
The chamber also passed a measure that would end the requirement that children under age 16 undergo a “face-to-face” meeting to be recertified for Medicaid.
The bill now goes to the House.
The Democrats’ measures were added to a massive bill dealing with the Division of Medicaid, which provides health care coverage for the elderly, disabled and disadvantaged.
After the changes were made, the bill passed 30-17 with many Republicans voting against it. It needed 29 to pass.
Republicans might try to remove the Democratic provisions soon. Both Democratic proposals had Republican support, but the amendment to block the enactment of a hospital tax had more.
Thursday’s vote was a reversal for the Senate. During a special session last summer, the Senate approved the hospital tax, but the House refused to go along with it.
The House wanted to make up at least some of the $90 million Medicaid shortfall with a cigarette tax. The issue was left unresolved after the state received one-time federal funds to cover the deficit.
On Thursday, Senate leaders tried to phase in the hospital tax over three years, with $30 million the first year, then $60 million and finally $90 million. But Sen. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, successfully offered a proposal that would prevent the hospital tax from being assessed if federal stimulus money was available.
Because the state is receiving federal stimulus money for Medicaid, Baria’s amendment would eliminate the need for the tax.
Barbour has on several occasions, including Thursday, argued that the face-to face requirement reduces Medicaid fraud. He cited a recent federal report that says Medicaid fraud in Mississippi is among the lowest in the nation.
“Requiring face-to-face meetings to check a recipient’s eligibility has reduced fraud and improved the efficiency of Mississippi’s Medicaid program,” Barbour said.
But opponents of the face-to-face requirement, including a majority of the House, argued it is inefficient, requires an additional $80 million in administrative costs and is burdensome for recipients.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.