By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Despite no money and no reauthorization being provided by the 2013 Legislature to the Division of Medicaid, Gov. Phil Bryant did not rule out trying to run the agency by executive order.
“As head of the Governor’s Division of Medicaid, I will do all I can to continue to provide Medicaid to the citizens who qualify in the state of Mississippi,” the first-term Republican said Wednesday after a tourism event at the Capitol. “That is my legal argument. If someone wants to challenge me in court, what is their argument?”
Bryant said he had an obligation to ensure the thousands of elderly residents on Medicaid in nursing homes are not “thrown out on the street” and said it would be up to someone to go to court to challenge his authority.
The 2013 legislative session ended without Medicaid being funded for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, or being reauthorized past June 30.
Democrats in the House successfully blocked funding and reauthorizing Medicaid, demanding a vote on expanding the program to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000 annually, as is allowed under federal law. Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, blocked that vote.
The governor said he would call a special session when an agreement is reached. He said Democrats in the House, whom Bryant blamed for the current impasse, have his number.
Democrats have said they are strong supporters of the existing program but that the state should not pass up the opportunity to receive federal funds to provide health care to about 300,000 working poor Mississippians.
Bryant opposes the expansion.
The current Medicaid program covers about 640,000 people – primarily the disabled, poor pregnant women, poor children and the elderly.
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, questioned how Bryant would have the authority to run the program since it by law will not exist after June 30, plus no money was provided by the Legislature for the program.
“He can’t appropriate money, and he can’t raise taxes,” Brown said.
He added, “We need to come back in special session and deal with the issue.”
Under federal law, Mississippi is supposed to notify Medicaid recipients within 30 days if they are losing coverage. Medicaid officials have said in published reports the agency is aware of its responsibility to provide notice to recipients.