Governor Defends Medicaid Changes

The only news nugget from the governor was that the September 15th deadline wasn't written in ink. He would delay the Medicaid to Medicare transition a second time, if he thought some of the people being moved were in danger of losing some prescription benefits.

Barbour believes moving 47,000 Mississippians from Medicaid to Medicare is the right thing to do, even if it happens in September rather than July first.

"I am absolutely confident that people are gonna have health care," he said. "The federal government would not be making us quit this program if they didn't feel the same way."

The federal government has given states until the end of 2005 to eliminate their Medicaid programs.

The governor said Mississippi's new program made three big reforms in Medicaid for next year.

"All will make Medicaid better," he said, "and all will save money."

Those reforms require the state Medicaid staff to find cheaper ways to buy prescription drugs. They require all Medicaid participants to take physicals. And they weed out people who don't belong on Medicaid rolls. Barbour said the state is saving $106 million by moving people to Medicare.

"The benefits are very good," the governor said. "They get more doctor visits, they get more nursing home they get more prescriptions."

When asked if the 75 day delay was long enough to help all 47,000 people being shifted to Medicare, Barbour said, "I'll tell you, if we come to Sept. 15 and I'm not satisfied that people are ready, then we'll delay again," he said. "It's as simple as that, nobody, nobody wants these people to go without benefits nobody's gonna let them go without benefits."

Here are two other excerpts from the 10 minutes interview done just before Gov. Barbour's speech to the Mississippi Municipal League.

Q:  There are people who are saying it's a stay of execution, that you're the executioner.  How do you respond to those people, how do you tell them no, I'm not killing you, I'm helping you?

A:  First of all, 18,000 of those people won't be moved from Medicaid to Medicare, they stay on Medicaid by waiver.  I've met with federal officials that can give us the waivers, and I feel very good about it.

Q:  Will you give the legislature the latitude to rethink this (the delay), or is this 75 days from now the law, and we're moving forward?

A:  The first thing you have to understand is that the federal government will require us to do this next year. We have no choice. At the end of next year we would have to do what we're doing September 15.  I am absolutely confident that people are going to have quality health care.  The federal government would not be making us quit this program if they didn't feel the same way.