By Bill Minor
“I’m not a doctor, I just play one on TV.”
That pun stuck with me last week when I began digging into publicly unknown facts about the privatization of a big chunk of Mississippi’s multi-million dollar Medicaid program under what is called MSCAN, short for MississippiCAN.
MSCAN became a reality under a law that was a parting gesture of Haley Barbour as he was winding down his second term in the governorship. Naturally as Republicans do, he boasted that the state would save money if it moved a big segment of Medicaid recipients into private sector managed care. State lawmakers bought the deal.
MSCAN was implemented in January, 20ll under contract with two providers, Magnolia Health Plan, and UnitedHealthcare. Both, of course, charge a fee for their services.
Now more than a year into its operation, the privately administered MSCAN program has been declared “wildly unpopular” by Mississippi primary care doctors who are the backbone for treating the thousands of low income individuals and families eligible for Medicaid.
Word of the program’s unpopularity came from Dr. Tim Alford, of Kosciusko, president of he Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians. Alford heads a family care clinic which serves a wide area of east-central Mississippi. Alford served as primary care physicians’ spokesman in an appearance two weeks ago before a House committee and a conference with Gov. Phil Bryant.
“That (‘wildly unpopular’) is also the feeling of others – pharmacists, pediatricians, the whole primary care community,” Alford declared. One complaint of doctors against the managed care organizations he added “is that they are very disruptive between the physician and the patient.”
Of note, Magnolia happens to be a client of lobbyist Henry Barbour, Haley’s nephew. Since MSCAN was implemented in 2012, the franchise has enrolled 140,000 Medicaid recipients.
The delegation of doctors who met with Bryant asked the governor to freeze the MSCAN program at its existing level until a better plan is found that would lower the state’s overall cost for Medicaid. Alford said he has recommended that Mississippi adopt the North Carolina “medical home” system which he said had saved some $900 million in Medicaid spending for that state over its three years in operation.
Mississippi’s legislative PEER committee which three years ago was tasked with monitoring how much cost saving was being made by the two MSCAN private providers, has said it could not calculate documented cost savings from information that has so far been reported. Maybe privatization isn’t such a panacea for government cost ailments after all.
Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.