January 11, 2017 10:30:14 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi's Medicaid director says there are straightforward reasons the program is requesting an additional $75 million to get through the final six months of the state budget year.
David Dzielak says legislators didn't put enough money into Medicaid in the first place. Plus, it was one of the agencies that lost money because of state budget cuts in September.
Medicaid is a government health insurance program for the needy. Many services are mandated by the federal government, which pays most of the tab. Compared to many other programs, there's relatively little flexibility in how Medicaid can cut costs.
Dzielak told lawmakers Tuesday that Mississippi's Medicaid enrollment has decreased over the past several months, possibly because people new to the program don't know they need to re-enroll every year. He said it's not unusual to see an increase in enrollment starting in January of each year.
The highest enrollment in the past two years was 796,103 in March 2015. It was down to 759,325 by December 2016. The latest figure is roughly one-quarter of the state's population.
Senate Medicaid Committee Chairman Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, said Tuesday that the state budget is tight this year and will be again for the year that begins July 1. He asked Dzielak for suggestions on finding money to cover the Medicaid deficit and to pay for any increase in the program next year.
"That's a tough decision," Dzielak said. "It is yours."
It's typical for legislators to give Medicaid less money than it requests, and to come back midyear and fulfill the program's request for more money. Last year, for example, Medicaid requested nearly $990 million and was given $965 million to start the year. Legislators later put an additional $51.5 million into the program, which also covered growth.
For the current year, Medicaid requested just over $1 billion, and legislators budgeted $933.2 million.