Gov. Bryant offers views on Medicaid issues

From press and staff reports


The residents and staff of Louisville Healthcare were given an update on the status of Medicaid in Mississippi from the governor during National Nursing Home Week 2013.

The nursing home was proud to welcome Governor Phil Bryant on May 13 as he spoke to the residents and staff about Medicaid expansion and reauthorization. Accompanying him on his visit were Congressman Gregg Harper and State Senator Giles Ward.

Bryant wanted the residents to know that he was doing everything he could to get the Medicaid program reauthorized, which provides health care for about 640,000 Mississippians.

Last month the 2013 three-month regular session ended without the Legislature passing bills to fund Medicaid or to reauthorize it for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. “It (reauthorizing Medicaid) came up for a vote 6 different times and the democrats killed the bill,” Bryant said. The thought was that the Legislature would come back in special session before July 1 to address those issues.

But Bryant has said he would not call a special session unless there is an agreement. He said last week that if House Democrats continue to block funding and reauthorization until there is a vote on expanding the program as allowed under federal law, he will try to run the agency by executive order. “I will call a special session only if I know the approval for reauthorizing Medicaid is there,” Bryant said.

Bryant wants to provide Medicaid for existing users of the program, and states he has the authority to keep the program operating or set its budget by the time of the start of the state’s fiscal year. However, there is speculation that any attempt to run the $5.4 billion state-federal health care agency without legislative funding would be fraught with constitutional questions.

The issue at the time is that a number of democrats in legislature will not vote to reauthorize Medicaid until there is a vote on the expansion of Medicaid. The governor is hoping to bypass this with an executive order.

Healthcare providers and advocacy groups continue to call for expansion or find a viable compromises since the federal government may cut payments to hospitals without the expansion. State Representative Bobby Moak says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has confirmed that health funds will be cut to states that don’t expand Medicaid.

Bryant is not ready to concede to the Democrats that do not see his point of view. “Expanding Medicaid would not help Mississippi,” Bryant said. ““$609 billion dollars would be saved by not expanding Medicaid. You cannot pass on the cost to future generations.”

Part of what died when the 2013 session ended taxes were imposed on hospitals and nursing homes to draw down federal funds for the operation of the agency. Under the current program, the federal government provides roughly $3 for every $1 spent by the state on the Medicaid program.

Part of the state money used to draw down federal funds comes from taxes totaling $280 million on hospitals and from about $40 million on nursing homes. Those taxes stand repealed if the Legislature does not pass a bill reauthorizing them.

Bryant feels that not voting on the reauthorization, however, is having a negative effect on the state’s hospitals. “Punishing hospitals by withholding Medicare Dish Payments is not the answer,” Bryant said. “We are examining and talking with the federal officials about returning the Medicaid Dish Payments to the hospitals.”

With the July 1 deadline soon approaching, Democrats and Republicans will have to find common ground to come to a conclusion regarding the reauthorization and expansion of Medicaid in Mississippi. Residents will have to wait and see which side prevails.

The Medicaid budget, which is set to end on June 30, was $160 million for the fiscal year, according to the Legislative Budget office.