Lawmakers Backpedal

By: Stan Torgerson
By: Stan Torgerson

The change from Medicaid to Medicare is effective July 1.

Rep. Randy Pierce who represents Forrest, Greene, George, Perry and Wayne Counties and Rep. Blaine Eaton who represents Smith, Jones and Covington Counties talked with Newscenter 11 about the problem.

"The argument on both sides is, will people be better off today with the existing program or will they be better off with the new program of Medicare? Some will. Some won't," said Eaton.

Medicare will increase access to doctors and hospitals, he said. At the same time it eliminates prescription drug benefits that are essential for many.

A revised federal Medicaid program with drug benefits does not click in until 2006. We asked the representatives why the bill was passed in the first place. Surely they had to know what was in it.

"We could not settle all aspects of governmental budgeting without settling this issue and it was forced on us," Eaton said. "We're not going to have a budget if we don't take the plaids out of the Medicaid budget because of the savings that was out there."

Pierce said if prescription benefits are put back in they can find the money by raising fees or using more of the tobacco trust fund.

"Mississippi has the ways and means to handle this. We're talking about $41 million. We went into the tobacco trust fund reluctantly but we were there," Pierce said. "We can pull out $20 million to go with some savings so we have the ways and means to do this. The question is, will we do it?"

Both say the only answer is a special session.

"We hope the governor will call a special session to do two things. Restore reauthorization for DHS, which is very important, and at the same time allow us to develop this transition program to take care of these people," said Pierce.

"The governor has the power to call a special session so it's totally in his hands," said Eaton.

So far, the governor has given no indication such a special session is in his plans.

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