Medicaid officials still hope for best

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – A spokeswoman said state Medicaid officials remain hopeful the health care agency will be reauthorized and funded for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.
But spokeswoman Erin Barham admitted, “We are currently reviewing guidelines regarding the procedure for notifying interesting parties of possible impacts if the Legislature does not fund and re-authorize the agency.”
Legislation to continue the agency for the upcoming fiscal year died during the 2013 session, which ended in early April, as a result of a fight between House Democrats and Republicans on whether to expand Medicaid to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level or about $15,000 annually.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant maintains the state cannot afford the expansion, which is allowed under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Democrats argue the federal government will pay the bulk of the costs of the expansion – 100 percent during the first three years – and that the expansion will provide health care to about 300,000 Mississippians, primarily the working poor.
The current Medicaid program covers the disabled, the elderly and poor pregnant women and poor children. Under the current Medicaid program all single people and most married people are not eligible for Medicaid regardless of their income level.
Federal and state guidelines mandate notice when changes are made in coverage for Medicaid recipients. But it is not clear what would happen if the entire program shut down.
Barham said Medicaid officials do no anticipate that happening, but said they are “aware of the situation and are looking into the potential cost of notification, but do not anticipate the need for sending letters to beneficiaries at this time.”
Bryant, who appoints the director of the Division of Medicaid, has said if no agreement is reached to continue the program he would run it by executive order and let someone take him to court to shut it down.
But most agree that it would be troublesome for the governor to run the program with no legislative appropriation and authorization. For instance, if the program is not re-authorized, Barham said nearly $390 million in provider taxes used to match and draw down federal funds would be repealed on July 1.
Bryant has indicated that he will not call a special session to take up Medicaid if Democrats continue to insist that a vote be taken in the House on expansion.
Over in the Senate, according to a report in the Hattiesburg American newspaper, Sen. Billy Hudson, R-Hattiesburg, has said he plans to vote to expand the program when the governor calls a special session.
Other Republicans legislators have said that expansion should be considered, but Hudson is the first to publicly support expansion. According to the report, Hudson said he supports expansion because without the additional federal money generated the state’s hospitals will be hurt.
In 2009, Medicaid was not funded and re-authorized until only hours before the new fiscal year began. At that time, Medicaid, under the direction of then-Gov. Haley Barbour, did not send out any notices of the possible loss of health care benefits.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com