Attorney General Jim Hood’s opinion that the Mississippi Division of Medicaid must be reapproved by its July 1 authorization deadline to continue operations seems like a reasonable conclusion that shouldn’t be controversial.
The Legislature and the governor continue using Medicaid as a wedge issue to maintain seemingly perpetual disagreement on how the state’s share is funded. The divide is both ideological and, in part, partisan.
The forgotten issue is Medicaid’s 600,000 clients: elderly and disabled people, poor pregnant women, and children. Medicaid is the health insurance program for the poor, a government-funded health plan designed for a special class of people, just like state employees’ and legislators’ health benefit plans are crafted to meet their needs.
Medicaid’s clients, however, are relatively powerless. Their advocates aren’t politicians and their influence isn’t routinely sought or organized by special interests seeking voices and votes.
Even if mostly faceless in political terms, those who understand Medicaid’s economic impact know its financially quantifiable importance.
In fiscal year 2008 (July 1, 2007- June 30, 2008), Medicaid in Mississippi spent more than $5,000 per adult client and about $2,500 per child in the network: more than $3.1 billion.
Thousands of jobs and businesses within the context of health service providers depend heavily on Medicaid to meet payroll, stay in business, and turn a profit.
The nation’s largest public provider of children’s health insurance, Medicaid is the main health-care safety net for more a majority of Mississippi’s children, and those covered probably would not receive adequate health care if Medicaid stopped because of legislative inaction or severe funding shortfalls.
Medicaid for children covers everything deemed “medically necessary,” including doctor and hospital visits, health screenings, vision care and dental services. Without Medicaid, most of the client children would have no health insurance.
For clarity, Medicaid is not a welfare handout, as many people believe. It pays health-care providers – thousands of Mississippians who, through their employers/businesses, earn their living providing care. Stop Medicaid’s economic impact and Mississippi will sink more deeply into recession.
Budget negotiators in the Legislature are trying to find the common ground that would allow them to fund Medicaid and reauthorize the agency well in advance of the deadline. Little progress is evident.
However, there’s time for greater urgency to develop. Every citizen has a voice in the discussions, especially families whose loved ones depend on Medicaid: children, aging and infirm parents and grandparents, and poor pregnant women whose pre-natal well-being depends on Medicaid care.
The political stakes are high, without argument, but the human stakes are beyond calculation.
NEMS Daily Journal