Medicaid chief explains program changes

By SHELIA BYRD

The Associated Press

JACKSON – Medicaid Executive Director Dr. Warren A. Jones says he hopes to clear up any confusion the public has about upcoming changes in the state's health plan for the needy.

Jones, using a slideshow presentation on Monday at an educational summit, explained the new face-to-face eligibility determination process and the Mississippi Medical Home program, which aims to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits.

Jones said these components of a comprehensive Medicaid bill passed in the latest Legislature have been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding plans to cut 50,000 recipients from the Medicaid roll.

The small group gathered in the community room of the Jackson Medical Mall included social workers and health care advocates.

Rims Barber, director of the Mississippi Human Services Agenda in Jackson, expressed concern about the distance people would have to travel for the redetermination meeting.

Jones said that 30 regional offices have been set up around the state. In addition, Medicaid staff would visit hospitals, nursing facilities and clinics to determine eligibility, he said.

Federal law requires that Medicaid beneficiaries meet eligibility requirements annually. The process begins in January.

“We're going to be mailing a letter to let them know where to go and when to go for their face-to-face redetermination,” Jones said.

Meetings will inform

He said the meetings will do more than cut down on fraud, it will also help Medicaid staff make a connection with the recipients and better advise them about available benefits.

The purpose of the Medicaid Reform Act was to shore up the program to ensure everyone who needs assistance gets it, Senate Public Health Chairman Alan Nunnelee said Monday.

Nunnelee said the medical home program would link patients with a primary care physician, making the doctor “the first avenue of medical recourse rather than the emergency room.”

“We think that's going to result in significant savings,” he said.

Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said the discussion about the elimination of the Poverty Level Aged and Disabled category, a cost-cutting plan promoted by Gov. Haley Barbour and passed by the 2004 Legislature, has received most of the public attention with regard to Medicaid changes.

Jones said he would support lawmakers in any decision they make about PLADS – whether they restore the benefits or stand by the earlier decision.

A federal judge temporarily restored the benefits until January.

In the next few weeks, lawmakers will consider address the issue. Many of them have vowed to restore the benefits.

Nunnelee said restoring the benefits will cost Medicaid between $120 million and $150 million this fiscal year.

“I'm still waiting to hear from those who screamed the loudest, how they intend to pay for this plan,” Nunnelee said.