Medicaid agency lobbies lawmakers for more money

JACKSON — Efforts to hold the line on Mississippi’s Medicaid spending are getting more daunting.

The state Medicaid agency told House members yesterday that without changes, it now needs almost $884 million for the budget year that begins July 1. That’s up from the $870 million that the agency had previously requested.

Gov. Phil Bryant is only asking lawmakers for the current year’s funding of $763 million for Medicaid, part of an austere budget request that would cut funding for most other agencies.

“If we can have greater flexibility in the way we do business, we think we can get closer to that goal,” David Dzielak, executive director for the Medicaid program, said after a hearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee.

Dzielak, a Bryant appointee, said current law dictates Medicaid payment procedures, and the Legislature could help by loosening those up. Lawmakers must act this year to reauthorize the program.

Medicaid pays for health care for some poor people, including children, pregnant mothers and senior citizens.

The new number is almost $14 million more than what Medicaid originally sought. Officials told the subcommittee that they project the federal government will pay for a slightly smaller share of Medicaid in the next budget year. The federal share will drop by less than 1 percentage point to 73.43 percent.

Medicaid enrollment had risen sharply during the recession as incomes fell, has the growth leveled out in Mississippi in recent months. At the end of February, the program served just more than 640,000 people, about 21 percent of the state’s residents.

Even if enrollment flattens out, the state still expects its total spending on medical services to rise about 7 percent in both the current budget year and in the 2013 budget year.

Bryant has also called for changing how Medicaid pays hospitals and doctors, changing to a set price list for procedures, instead of paying back costs.

“There may be some savings if we change the methodology,” Dzielak said. But he warned that it would likely take Medicaid until the end of the year to make any change, meaning half the 2013 budget year would be paid under the current method.

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