EDITORIAL: Budget hope

Gov. Haley Barbour, returning to Mississippi between Republican campaign appearances in New Hampshire and Iowa, offered modest encouragement Thursday morning that conversations about the 2010 budget could produce plans acceptable to everybody – the House, the Senate and himself.
We hope his very measured optimism plays out because, if not, our state is headed for big trouble, beginning on Wednesday – the first day of the 2010 budget year.
Thursday afternnoon, the governor’’s staf sent to key legislative Medicaid negotiators a counter-proposal for taxing hospitals and funding Medicaid. Rep. Dirk Dedeaux, chairman of the House Medicaid Committee, and Sen. Hob Bryan, chairman of the Senate Public Health Committee,, said in a reply to Barbour, “In summary, it seems we have defined our differences, and that’s p[ositive. Apart from techhnical issues, you could say we’re within $23 million of each other. Please let us hear from you.”
Barbour’s renetering conversation should be seen as a positive sign of possibilities.
The sticking point has been a provision that would prohibit his cutting hospitals’ funds in the event of a deficit. Dedeaux and Bryan reasoned hospitals will provide a minimum of $60 million and a maximum of $90 million in tax assessments per year for Medicaid through 2012, and should not be cut after helping fund the program.
Barbour’s move represents movement and a basis for further negotiation, perhaps even a resolution.
If not, the odds increase that come July 1 Mississippi will have no budget and no spending authority unless for a narrow list of services and programs deemed essential and operated under an emergency decree.
As of Thursday, some hospitals, looking out for their own financial integrity and laying out in advance what can be expected, were notifying some Medicaid patients that without guaranteed state funding they would be reclassified as private-pay patients. That means they would be held accountable for all their expenses. At the same time, Mississippi Hospital Association Executive Sam Cameron said no patients would be turned away or denied treatment.
There is no free lunch in health care. Charity, which may be free care for individuals, falls on others at the bottom line.
In addition, thousands of Mississippi school teachers are almost within a month of starting preliminary work for the 2009-2010 school year, but have no contracts. Individual districts understandably want certainty about state funding before issuing contracts.
The Department of Transportation will cancel $500 million in contracts (and jobs) awarded and under way July 1 if a budget isn’t certain.
Nobody wins if the budget isn’t settled.

NEMS Daily Journal