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Budget cuts could mean releasing prisoners

Holmes sheriff: Prisoners are already released too soon

To balance the state budget for fiscal year 2010, Gov. Barbour said in an Oct. 13 statement he will likely have to impose a 5 percent cut to Medicaid. Although it is anybody’s guess, this could mean drastic prescription drug benefit cuts to Medicaid beneficiaries.

Medicaid is funded by both federal and state dollars and consists of mandatory services, which are required by the federal government, and optional services, which are added by the state. 

The only Medicaid services the state is allowed to reduce to help balance the budget are optional services, said France Rullan, director of communications for the state Division of Medicaid. Those who qualify for Medicaid cannot be denied enrollment, and federally mandated services for beneficiaries cannot be cut, he said.

The optional service eating the largest portion of the Medicaid option service budget is prescription drugs. Out of the $5-billion state Medicaid budget for fiscal year 2008, $328 million went toward prescription drug coverage. The state-funded portion of that bill not picked up by the federal government was approximately $80 million. By comparison, another optional service — inpatient psychiatric services — only cost the state $9 million.

“A 5 percent cut in a program this big – that’s like saying I’m going to disconnect two cylinders of my automobile to save gas. You just blow the engine apart,” Rullan said.

A 5 percent cut to a $5-billion budget would mean a reduction of $250 million. The state’s portion of that sum is more than $62 million. The only optional service near that amount is prescription drugs. 

There is no way of knowing whether co-pays will increase or whether some drug benefits will be cut altogether, Rullan said. “We’ve never been here before,” he said, referring to the budget shortfall.

Medicaid beneficiaries are currently charged $3 per prescription and are allowed up to five prescriptions per month. No more than two may be brand name drugs. Children may be allowed more prescriptions if authorized by a doctor.


Releasing prisoners

Rumored to be on the chopping block is corrections. Gov. Barbour said at a September press conference that cutting the corrections budget would mean releasing prisoners onto the streets.

The Department of Corrections Communications division would not comment on possible budget cuts. 

Senate Corrections Committee chair Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, did not answer repeated phone calls from the Mississippi Business Journal and does not have an answering service for his office or cell phone. He did not respond to an e-mail requesting his input on possible corrections cuts.

President of the Mississippi Sheriff’s Association, Holmes County Sheriff Willie March, however, said crime is increasing in his county, which has a regional jail.

March estimates that 95 percent of Holmes County arrests are repeat offenders. During the spring Legislative session, lawmakers relaxed the laws on non-violent offenders, requiring them to serve only a quarter of their sentences. Laws previously required them to serve 85 percent of sentences, he said.

As far as releasing prisoners goes, March said, “I don’t see how they can release them any earlier.” 




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