If the House and Senate cannot come to an agreement on Monday, the Legislature may leave without a state budget this session for the the $6 billion Department of Medicaid.
The House declined to approve the Mississippi Department of Medicaid’s appropriations bill on Sunday as the Legislature continued the process of putting together the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget.
Instead House members voted to recommit the bill to conference for further deliberation as a means to keep a separate Medicaid Department technical amendment bill alive. The technical bill lays out how the agency will spend its $6 billion annual budget, whereas the appropriations bill outlines how much money the agency will receive.
The technical bill is hung up in a tug-of-war between the state Hospital Association and the insurance companies responsible for paying them. Provider-run insurance plan Mississippi True lost a bid last summer to become one of Medicaid’s three managed care contractors, and the group has lobbied since then for inclusion.
On Saturday both chambers filed conference reports by the 8 p.m. deadline, although Senate leaders warned that the Medicaid tech bill is caught in a stalemate because the House is set on trying to please the powerful interest group by giving Mississippi True a slice of the managed care budget.
Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, made the motion on Sunday to recommit the Medicaid appropriations bill back to a conference committee for the purpose of adding the Medicaid agency’s technical bill to the conference report. She argued that if the House passed the Medicaid appropriations bill there would be no other way to ensure a technical bill survived.
“If we send this appropriations bill and we send the money over to Medicaid, we have no authority anymore,” Currie said. “I like this governor, but I’m not willing to go home and tell my people ‘I’m sorry, I just stood here and took it.’ ” Currie was referring to the possibility that if a technical bill is not passed, under state law Gov. Phil Bryant would assume supervisory control of the Medicaid Department.
“We’ve been here since January 2nd and all we’ve heard from the other end of the building is crickets,” Currie said. “Their chairman doesn’t have the authority to meet with our chairman and iron a bill out. We have got to send this bill back. We’ve got to have a spine.”
Rep. Robert Foster, R-Hernando, attempted to kill her motion by tabling it but that failed on a voice vote.
House Appropriations Chairman John Read, R-Gautier, warned of the repercussions of recommitting the bill, pointing out that the agency could go unfunded altogether if both chambers did not come to agreement and the governor declined to call a special session to allow another attempt to resolve the impasse.
“I think this is a bad move,” Read said. “I’d hate to say I’m the one that voted to kill Medicaid funding.”
The deadline for action on the bill is Monday. When reached by email, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves spokesperson Laura Hipp did not rule out the possibility that the two chambers can iron out a compromise.
“Sen. (Brice) Wiggins has met numerous times with Rep. (Jason) White and other House members, and Lt. Gov. Reeves is hopeful an agreement can be reached by the deadline on Monday,” Hipp said.