Deadline Looms for Medicaid Solution

"This is Mississippi's savings account for our children's future," said former Attorney General Mike Moore, who heads the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi.

When it comes to "raiding" Mississippi's multi-million dollar tobacco trust fund, Moore says that's not the answer.

"If they'd left this account alone, it would have $1.2 billion in it right now," said Moore. "And it would grow every year and they ought to be able to get enough money by just spending the interest off of it every year."

Established in 1999, Moore says ideally it's interest from this fund which could help make up the difference in cases such as the $26 million deficit that the state's Medicaid agency is now facing.

State Sen. Terry Burton of Newton, who is now on a special committee examining the Medicaid dilemma, said, as in years past, this year lawmakers may have no choice but to dip into the fund.

"The only place to find $200 million to fund the Medicaid deficit is in the tobacco trust fund. There's no other pot of money out there that even come close to that," said Burton.

"I think it's silly for Mississippi to dip into its healthcare trust fund for a recurring problem," replied Moore. "Because once you've depleted it, which it will be depleted next year, then there won't be any trust fund, so what are they going to do next year?"

To handle the state's Medicaid dilemma, lawmakers are now looking at making changes in eligibility requirements, in qualifications on who can receive prescription drug benefits and also in changing some co-pay criteria, as well as a 50-cent per pack tax increase on cigarettes.

With a $268 million deficit and a deadline of next Tuesday to do something about it, lawmakers are definitely feeling the pressure. The big question now is, will they make it?

"Yes, we will," said Burton. "I do not believe that the legislature will allow the Medicaid program to shut down. I simply can't imagine that happening."

In case lawmakers miss next week's Medicaid deadline, officials have secured a $50 million line of credit to pay claims through mid-March.