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Report To The People

Medicaid Program Will Be Prime Health Care Issue

By Tommy Reynolds

With the beginning of the annual meeting of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in Jackson, the matter of providing much-needed health care services to thousands of our citizens through the Medicaid program will be a prime issue.

I am grateful to have represented the citizens of District 33 (Lafayette, Tallahatchie and Yalobusha counties) in the Mississippi House of Representatives for almost 30 years.  Throughout this period, I have always been appreciative of the support given me, and I know why I am there: to represent you.

This means that I do not go to the Capitol to represent the chief executive of the state or any legislative official, no matter who he or she may be, or any other political faction or group. I am beholden only to the people of District 33.

I have always supported total funding of the Medicaid program.  This program provides health-care for one-fourth of all citizens of Mississippi and helps to keep our health-care system open, including hospitals and nursing homes.

I also supported the most reasonable plan put forth by the House of Representatives during the recent special session, when we met due to what was termed a “Medicaid crisis.”  I can honestly tell you that there was no Medicaid crisis.  That became clearly evident a few weeks ago when the Governor’s Division of Medicaid suddenly found an “accounting error,” bringing the $90 million to the program that was needed to fill out the current fiscal year 2009 Medicaid budget.

There never was a crisis to begin with: The Legislature, as it has historically done, would have taken care of the Medicaid funding gap when the 2009 regular session begins in January. We have never been called into special session in July to deal with a Medicaid deficit.

The House for several years has proposed an increase in tobacco taxes to help fund Medicaid.  I have always supported that idea. The governor’s main proposal has been to tax hospitals – at the rate of $167.25 per bed, per day. We in the House of Representatives appropriately called this a “sick bed tax” because the people occupying those beds would ultimately pay the tax.

We in the House of Representatives proposed a Medicaid plan during the special session that was judged sound by the Mississippi Hospital Association.  It would have raised $45 million in tobacco taxes and reduced the hospital tax in half. The State Senate adjourned and went home before the plan could get a full airing in the Legislature – despite the fact that many of our hospitals are experiencing tough financial times. The MHA’s lobbyists said that the House plan would have left most of our local hospitals in a much better financial position than the plan offered by Governor Barbour would have done – a plan which would have gone into effect if the extra money had not been found by the Medicaid accountants.

In fact, three of the hospitals in north Mississippi, Tallahatchie General in Charleston, Yalobusha County Hospital in Water Valley and Baptist in Oxford, all would have fared better under the House plan that under the Governor’s plan. Yalobusha County Hospital would have come out $252,278 worse off under the governor’s plan. Baptist Memorial in Oxford would have come out $1.781 million worse off under the governor’s plan, while Tallahatchie General in Charleston would have fared about $20,000 worse off.

The House also suggested throughout the special session that funds could be taken from the Rainy Day Fund to fill the $90 million Medicaid gap. There is almost $400 million in that fund.

By now I am sure some of you know that the governor’s tax-study committee which has now recommended an increase in tobacco taxes. I believe an increase in tobacco taxes should be considered before taxing hospitals or people receiving hospital care.

I will continue to do all I can to ensure that the people of District 33 have access to our medical care systems and that our hospitals in this area will not be harmed. The continuation of  health-care services and availability to those services is crucial to all of us. That struggle will always be with us – even when the bureaucrats suddenly “find” a cache of cash.

I thank you once again for allowing me to represent you at the State Capitol.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me at 662-647-3203 law office, 662-473-2571 or e-mail me at treynolds@house.ms.gov.

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