Barbour Signs Medicaid Bill, Says No Reconsidering Issue

Hours after Gov. Haley Barbour signed a bill that removes 65,000 people from Medicaid, more than 100 people rallied at the Capitol and asked him to reconsider.

Barbour said he stands by the plan and he won't add Medicaid to the list of issues lawmakers can debate during their current special session.

The plan takes effect when the new budget year starts July 1, and Barbour said it will save the state $106 million a year. Responding to a question, the governor said it's wrong for some House members to say the Medicaid changes will cause widespread suffering or even death.

"I don't understand trying to scare people,'' Barbour said. "What we need to be doing is letting people know that we understand why they're confused and worried, but that this is going to be as good or better.''

House Speaker Billy McCoy voted for the bill during the regular session but now said he regrets doing so. During the rally Wednesday, he called the bill "an absolute sin on society.''

"Can we not afford to take care of 60- to 65,000 people who are unable to take care of themselves? What kind of society are we?'' McCoy, D-Rienzi, said to the applause of Medicaid recipients, retirees, health advocates and some lawmakers in the Capitol rotunda.

About 65,000 people will lose Medicaid coverage, with about 60,000 of them moving to Medicare, which is fully funded by the federal government. Medicaid is paid by state and federal dollars and provides health coverage for the needy, aged, blind, disabled and low-income children with families.

Republican Barbour says he is seeking federal permission to allow Medicaid to continue covering the 5,000 people who don't immediately qualify for the federal program. Federal regulations say states must move the dually eligible people over to Medicare by January 2006.

Barbour praised the bill's requirement that every Medicaid recipient requalify for the program every year. The requalification will have to be done in person instead of by mail, as it has been done.

"We just are not going to ask the taxpayers of Mississippi who work two or three jobs to pay taxes to pay for free health care for people who can work and take care of themselves and just choose not to,'' Barbour said during a bill signing ceremony in his Capitol office.

The House voted 108-0 Tuesday to ask Barbour to add reconsideration of Medicaid to agenda of the special session that started last week. Only a governor can set a special session's agenda.

House Public Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, also said he now regrets having voted for the Medicaid bill. He said people need to pressure Barbour to change his mind and allow a new debate.

"He'll just have to swallow his pride and do that,'' Holland said. "It's morally and reprehensibly unbelievable what happened.''

Jane Powell, 75, of Jackson, said she's scared about what will happen when she loses Medicaid coverage. She said she takes 10 prescriptions for heart problems, osteoporosis and other ailments, and she believes Medicare won't pay enough to cover her medication expenses.

"If they don't bring this Medicaid back as they should, I'm not going to be the only one they may find dead in the street,'' Powell said.

Asked why he voted for the bill, Holland said: "We got backed in a corner.''

He said Senate negotiators wanted to give Barbour more control over Medicaid, and House members worried that would put all 720,000 people on the program at risk.

Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, has praised the Medicaid bill as a plan that's fair to recipients and taxpayers.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)