HED:Senate overrides bill vetoed last year by Fordice
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – More than a month after leaving office, Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice is still losing fights with the Legislature.
On Wednesday, the Senate by a 48-0 vote overrode a Medicaid bill vetoed by Fordice after the 1999 session of the Legislature had adjourned for the year. More than likely, the House will take up the proposal, which passed last year by an overwhelming margin, in the next few days.
Fordice’s biggest complaint with the measure in the April veto message was that it established a Medical Care Advisory Committee comprised of legislators and health care professionals to work with the Division of Medicaid. He said the panel would be a violation of the separation of powers clause of the state Constitution because it would place legislators in position to oversee part of the executive branch.
House Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Bobby Moody, D-Louisville, said the panel was established last year by agreement of a Republican Public Health and Welfare chairman in the Senate and a Democrat in the same position in the House.
Moody said the advisory committee is only a small portion of the bill and was done to try to comply with federal guidelines that call for such a panel.
The Senate action to override was taken, Sen. Jack Gordon, D-Okolona, said, to take advantage of $17 million in the bill in earnings from the state’s tobacco trust fund. Money being paid to the state as a result of Attorney General Mike Moore’s successful lawsuit against the tobacco companies is being placed in a trust fund and the earnings are to be used for health care items.
The bill vetoed by Fordice would expand Medicaid (health coverage) for the poor particularly the elderly, said Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Bunky Huggins, R-Greenwood. It would make senior citizens who earn 135 percent of the federal poverty level $10,868 for an individual and $14,948 for a couple eligible for the Medicaid health insurance program.
Plus, Huggins said the bill had a provision allowing the state to obtain federal money available to hire 46 counselors to work for a limited time to try to locate and sign up people eligible for the Medicaid program. Some estimate that there are 20,000 elderly and disabled who would be added to Medicaid under the bill.
Moody said he did not know if the number who would be added is as high as 20,000.
But “I think there are some people slipping through the cracks,” Moody said. “…If there are 1,000, it (passing the bill to try to help them with health insurance) is worth doing. If there are 100, it is worth doing. If there are 10 we can provide assistance for, it is worth doing.”