Medicaid rolls to expand with reform

JACKSON – An additional 400,000 Mississippians could be eligible for Medicaid under the massive health care law enacted earlier this year.
But at least in the early years, the full cost will be paid by the federal government, Joy Johnson Wilson, a health care policy director of the National Conference of State Legislatures, told members of the Mississippi Legislature on Monday.
She was one of several experts who described the impact of the new health care law to members of the House and Senate Public Health and Medicaid committees during a meeting at the state Capitol.
Under the law, which expands the number of Americans who have health care coverage, individuals with incomes of less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or less than $14,400 annually, will be eligible for Medicaid.
Medicaid, particularly in Mississippi, has traditionally been a health care program for the elderly, disabled, poor pregnant women and poor children. It has been paid for through a combination of state and federal funds.
Richard Roberson, special assistant to state Medicaid Executive Director Robert Robinson, told the House and Senate members that about 625,000 Mississippians currently are on Medicaid.
He said Mississippi has the highest percentage of people of any state who will qualify for Medicaid under the new health care provisions. As much 32 percent of the state’s population, he said, would be eligible for Medicaid.
While Robinson did not attend the legislative hearing, he released a statement Monday, saying, “We struggle to pay for the program that we have now. With federal health care reform, we will soon need more than $1 billion from Mississippi taxpayers to pay for this program. In 2014, our Medicaid program will cover approximately one out of three Mississippians and consume 20 to 25 percent of our state budget.”
According to Johnson Wilson, the federal government will pick up the entire cost of the new Medicaid recipients from the time the program takes effect in 2014 through 2016. Then the federal government will pick up 95 percent of the cost. By 2020 and there after, the federal government will pay 90 percent of the cost.
The National Conference of State Legislatures, she said, “lobbied hard” to get that matching rate for the states.
Here’s how the new program will work:
• Starting in 2014, a person who does not have health insurance through an employer or other means can go to a health insurance exchange and obtain a policy.
• The health care exchanges will be set up in each state to provide easy access and supposedly less expensive rates because more people will be shopping for health insurance there.
• People who earn less than $14,400 will be put in the Medicaid program.
• Each state will be allowed to set up its own exchange, adhering to minimum federal standards.
State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney urged legislators to set up the exchange during the 2011 session instead of allowing the federal government to do so.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said there might be some advantages to allowing the federal government to use its expertise to set up the exchanges.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

BOBBY HARRISON / Daily Journal Jackson Bureau