Legislature’s final offer: $60 million to Medicaid

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The Legislature approved a $60 million deficit appropriation for Medicaid late Monday, filling some, if not all, of the holes in the agency’s 2017 budget.

Although the $60 million represents a significant increase over the $40 million deficit appropriation initially passed by the Senate, it’s still $29 million short of what Medicaid had initially requested.

Since January, Medicaid has said it needed $89 million to close a deficit left by three rounds of state-wide budget cuts and an appropriations shortfall.

But state leaders said the $60 million remained the Legislature’s best, and final, offer to the beleaguered state agency.

Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg

“Those of us who have worked with Medicaid, particularly on appropriations, know that they tend to overestimate their appropiations. So $60 million should get us pretty close,” said Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, who presented the legislation.

Senate Bill 3015 also contained funding for several state agencies in fiscal year 2017, including $3.7 million for vocational and technical education, $1.4 million for the Wireless Communication Commission and $3.8 million in legal fees and settlements for the attorney general’s office.

The bulk of funding in this bill, including $51.4 million for Medicaid, comes from a $74 million credit to the Capital Expense Fund. The additional $8.6 million in Medicaid funds came from the state’s general fund.

Not all lawmakers agreed with how the money was allocated.

Gil Ford Photography

Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel

Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, questioned whether Medicaid should have received such a large chunk of the Capital Expense Fund and pointed out that other health agencies could have used the funding, too.

During the floor discussion Monday on the budget for the Department of Human Services, Scott had asked whether Meals on Wheels would remain funded, given that budget’s 3 percent cut, a point she reiterated that evening.

“We basically said we were going to pay Medicaid’s bill and hope for the best with that agency, but … DHS or the Dept of Mental Health, with just $15 million, could have been in a lot better shape than they are (now). We could have at least stopped some of these calls that we’re getting and the fear that we’re getting from some of these elderly people that don’t think they’re going to be able to get a meal, that don’t know if their home health aid is going to come,” Scott said.