Time to find stable funding for Medicaid

With so many numbers being thrown around, fingers pointed and political threats being unleashed it has become a mismatch of confusion and ill tempers. To sum it up in a few sentences, the bottom line is that between 20 and 25 percent of our state’s citizens depend on the state operated but Federally funded Medicaid program. Mississippi fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, is a major benefactor of the program with the Federal government matching every dollar we put in with $6.

The state’s responsibility is to manage the program and generate the necessary matching funds that come from a complicated formula of provider fees, taxpayer funds and other financial smoke and mirrors. The state has never properly funded the program and it has been a political football for 20-plus years.

At the heart of the current crisis is a $90 million per year shortfall that the state has been covering for the past three years with one-time funds such as Hurricane Katrina relief funds and Katrina related windfall sales tax receipts. The bottom line is that the Mississippi Legislature is continuing to sidestep the funding shortage and Barbour thinks it has come to properly fix the issue.

Why is Barbour now acknowledging his lack of opposition to a tobacco tax in the future but just not for Medicaid? Because as Barbour told the MPA, raising the tobacco tax has been cited 19 different times by the Legislature in the past four years but never for Medicaid. Now all of a sudden they want to raise this in order to lower the hospital tax. “This (effort) is just political,” he said.

To add more pressure, state leaders learned Friday that the state’s revenue projections are short by some $17 million – a reflection of the poor state of the state and national economy. The revenue shortage will further limit options for the Medicaid shortfall.

The easy answer to all of this is to do what the state has done for years – to simply pass the buck. For the governor’s credit he is willing to stand up to the criticism and force the Legislature not to take the easy way out. Had someone done that years ago we might not be in the mess we find ourselves today.

Brookhaven Daily Leader