Medicaid to pay Health workers; dozens of jobs saved

JACKSON — Mississippi Medicaid officials will resume paying state Health Department workers to help women with high-risk pregnancies.

The agreement, announced Friday, starts June 1 and runs through June 30, 2014. Medicaid has typically paid the Health Department more than $8.5 million a year for the program.

The new agreement reverses last month’s decision by the Health Department to lay off 82 social workers. The Division of Medicaid had shifted the program to its two private managed care contractors in December, and Health Department officials said in April they had nothing else for the social workers to do. Almost 100 other Health Department workers, many of whom spent only part of their time on the high-risk pregnancy program, were shifted to other duties.

Health Department spokeswoman Liz Sharlott said the program provides home visits to about 6,200 mothers and infants, combined, each year. It’s aimed at mothers who previously had premature or low weight babies, and mothers who smoke or have chronic diseases such as diabetes.

“There’s that personal interaction, whereas managed care is a system over the phone,” Sharlott said, explaining why health officials sought to preserve their program.

One of the state’s managed care contractors said in April that the company worked to help women with risky pregnancies.

Mississippi had the highest infant mortality rate in the nation in 2011, according to the most recent national figures available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Health Department and Division of Medicaid have worked together on the high-risk pregnancy program since the program was started years ago. It supports about 3,500 women and 2,500 infants a year, Sharlott said. Workers provide education and try to ensure women visit their doctors while pregnant and take their children for checkups after birth.

Lawmakers had expressed concern about the potential layoffs, leading to an April 26 meeting. At that time, State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier said she was in talks with Medicaid Director David Dzielak about moving the program back to the Health Department.

A spokeswoman for the Division of Medicaid could not be reached for comment Friday.

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