Medicaid must have legislative approval, Hood says

JACKSON – If the Legislature does not re-authorize the Division of Medicaid by July 1, it will cease to exist and Gov. Haley Barbour will not be able to run it by “executive order,” according to an official attorney general’s opinion.
The opinion from the office of Attorney General Jim Hood was released this week in response to a question by Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, one of the key House budget negotiators.
Official opinions from the state attorney general’s office do not carry the weight of law, but protect public officials who follow them from potential lawsuits.
The re-authorization of the Division of Medicaid has been caught up in the inability of House and Senate negotiators to agree on how to divvy up about $5 billion to fund state agencies, starting with the new fiscal year on July 1.
The full Legislature is currently in recess while House and Senate budget leaders work on the issue.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, the lead Senate negotiator, says he does not want to deal with re-authorizing Medicaid until a budget agreement is reached.
Brown and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, have been urging Nunnelee to get the issue of re-authorizing Medicaid off the table.
Unless the Legislature re-authorizes the Division of Medicaid, Brown and Stringer said the agency, which provides health care to about 600,000 elderly, disabled and poor pregnant women and children, will cease to exist July 1.
Nunnelee has contended that if the Legislature does not re-authorize the agency, it would mean administrative changes, such as loss of employment for Medicaid Executive Director Robert Robinson, but that Barbour, through executive order, could continue the health care services.
The official attorney general’s opinion acknowledges that it is the Division of Medicaid-Office of the Governor and that the governor would have “some residual authority” to run the agency.
But the opinion says any funds that the Legislature appropriates to the Division of Medicaid “cannot be expended by the governor’s office nor can the governor’s office assume the assets and property of the Division” of Medicaid.
The opinion says the governor could run the agency if he receives “his own appropriation with language allowing use of those funds for administering the Medicaid program.”
Brown said the House is not likely to agree to that.
When asked if the governor thought he could run Medicaid through executive order, Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said, “We’re going to wait and see what happens with the Legislature.”
Thus far the House and Senate negotiators have not met in public session this week to try to reach a budget accord. Talks broke down last week.
The full Legislature is slated to return Tuesday. When the House and Senate recessed, the plan called for budget leaders to have a deal that the full Legislature could take up soon after returning.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal