Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula

The Senate approved a $10.1 million cut to Medicaid for the upcoming fiscal year on Tuesday in an ongoing effort to reduce costs at one of the state’s largest agencies.

Medicaid Committee Chairman Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, stressed that the new $909.3 million budget represents only a 1.1 percent reduction from the agency’s 2017 budget, which ends June 30.

Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, noted that Medicaid already has weathered three rounds of cuts and was initially funded less than the $1 billion that Medicaid requested. Taking these factors into account, Blount said later that the new budget for 2018 actually represents $99 million less than what Medicaid said it will spend next year.

“I don’t know that it is a $10.1 million cut. … What we actually need to know is, how much money will Medicaid spend in fiscal year 2017? Or are we looking at another deficit appropriation in the next year?” Blount said.

Currently, Medicaid is requesting $89 million to plug a funding gap for fiscal year 2017. The Senate has approved $40 million of this sum, but has said Medicaid will have to cut costs to make up the remaining roughly $49 million shortfall.

Wiggins said these cuts, while difficult, are necessary to keep Medicaid spending under control. He said a tighter budget could push the agency to find more efficient ways of offering services.

“(Medicaid) as well as us legislators always need to be looking at what we can do better,” Wiggins said. “That’s one of the reasons we went to managed care in Medicaid, so the volatility is minimized and we’ll budget better.”

The Legislature’s proposed $10.1 million cut is based on a 2017 budget that includes the $40 million deficit appropriation. Wiggins said he’s aware that keeping the budget so tight will likely result in Medicaid making another deficit appropriation request for next year.

“We’re always worried about (a deficit appropriation request) because that’s been the pattern these last five years,” Wiggins said.

Since 2014, Medicaid’s deficit appropriation requests have varied from $51 million to $99 million. But prior to 2017, the Legislature had never left more than $21 million unfunded.

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Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.