Still no approval for state to cut Medicaid payments

JACKSON — Mississippi’s Medicaid program still hasn’t received federal permission to cut payments to doctors, dentists and other providers for the final three months of the budget year, the program’s spokesman said today.

The chairman of the state Senate Public Health Committee, meanwhile, said the planned cuts for April, May and June are counterproductive.

“It just further irritates the very people we need — the good doctors and the good dentists who are treating their fair share of Medicaid patients and doing the right thing,” Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said Monday.

Medicaid notified providers nearly two weeks ago that it intended to cut their payments for three months because of a shortfall in the state budget. Spokesman Francis Rullan said getting federal permission to make the temporary change could take up to 90 days, and there’s no way to know when Mississippi will find out if the change is approved or denied.

Legislators are out of session now, but will return April 20 to finish writing a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Some lawmakers want to put $14.6 million into Medicaid to restore the shortfall for the current year, but Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and the Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo, said they consider all budget work to be finished for the current year.

Medicaid reimbursements for dental services could be reduced 20 percent for April, May and June, according to a chart provided by the program. Payments for a wide range of providers, including nursing homes and pharmacists, could be cut 15 percent.

Medicaid is a health coverage plan for the needy, aged, blind and disabled, and for low-income families with children. It is paid by state and federal money, and because Mississippi is a poor state, it receives a generous federal contribution.

About 21 percent of all Mississippians are covered by Medicaid.

Medicaid said it has a $14.6 million shortfall for payments to providers for the state fiscal year that ends June 30. With the federal contribution, the total shortfall is more than $87 million.

During a speech Monday at a luncheon sponsored by the Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps, Bryan said Mississippi has hundreds of millions of dollars in reserves and Barbour could use $14.6 million to restore Medicaid.

Barbour spokesman Dan Turner responded later that lawmakers are responsible for the shortfall, not the governor.

“Not only did they choose not to restore the cuts, they took $14 million from Medicaid,” Turner said.

In March, Barbour signed a bill into law that restored $82 million of the $458.5 million he had trimmed from the $6 billion state budget because of revenue shortfalls.

The bill said $14 million would be taken from Medicaid and put into education and other programs. But lawmakers said when they passed the bill that the $14 million was not a reduction in Medicaid’s original level of funding. Rather, they said, Mississippi received the money after the federal government agreed it had reimbursed the state too little in a previous dispute about Medicaid payments.

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