/Legislators warn scarce resources will force tough choices

Legislators warn scarce resources will force tough choices

These working groups will be evaluating the budgets for 13 state agencies as well as the state’s tax structure. One of the most controversial items was the $9.4 million allocated to the Department of Health’s Tobacco Control Program. Mary Currier, state health officer, stated that all tobacco funds must be used for tobacco control. However, Lt. Governor. Tate Reeves emphasized that state laws can be modified. Reeves stated that even if a law is passed, it can be amended. Do you believe there are more efficient uses of the funding problems your department has faced? While all these programs are great for the state, we are all in the business to make choices. We have limited resources. We’ll never be able to spend as much on things as we need.” These themes were repeated in many legislators’ questions during sessions that included representatives from other agencies. Legislators heard from representatives of the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Human Services, as well as the Department of Mental Health. Reeves also questioned Diana Mikula (executive director of the Department of Mental Health), why the department spent $60,000 per patient annually. Rep. Becky Currie (R-Brookhaven) followed up with questions about the department’s dependence on outside doctors. Currie warned Child Protective Services not to fall into the same carelessness patterns that led to the recent departmental realignment. Currie stated, “I don’t hear things changing out there. I’m also not hearing that foster parents feel better.” “So I guess that I am asking if your people (of) having a tendency to (of) doing things the same as before.” On Wednesday morning’s hearings about IT and Medicaid, Dr. David Dzielak from the Mississippi Division of Medicaid testified that improving the economy is the only way to decrease Medicaid spending. Two factors determine eligibility for Medicaid: income and family size. “Our medical inflation is affecting our expenditures.” Dzielak stated that if everyone was super healthy, we could save some money. But the real issue is whether the economy of the state performs better. “One in four Mississippians receives benefits – that’s more than in other states.” Reeves quickly replied that the problem was not the lack of jobs in Mississippi, but the willingness of Mississippians to accept them. I think you are implying that we need more people, and not a comment about the economy. There are many reasons why people don’t work. There are many jobs available in other areas of the state. My knowledge also shows that we have the lowest rate of employment for able-bodied adults aged 18 to 65. Reeves stated that many of these people who aren’t employed may be able to find work, and they’re also eligible for Medicaid. Philip Gunn, Speaker of the House, agreed with Reeves. “I would agree to the lieutenant governor’s assessment. It is more about the people working. “…If more people worked, they wouldn’t be eligible.” Not all members were convinced that Medicaid’s high enrollment was due to some state residents’ inability to work. Senator Brice Wiggins (R-Pascagoula) pointed out that not all jobs offer benefits like insurance. Wiggins stated that in order to be eligible for Medicaid, people must have insurance connected to their jobs. Wiggins said that while there may be some jobs available, and he or she is not disputing anything, the jobs may not be insured. Wiggins also asked Dzielak about the salaries of Medicaid employees. He asked Dzielak why an administrator in Jackson’s office who works behind a computer would make more than a case worker at one of the regional Medicaid offices who directly deals with Medicaid beneficiaries. Wiggins stated that the emphasis should be on those who serve our citizens and not, “say, a system analyst.” Dzielak explained that the State Personnel Board sets salaries and they are consistent with other state departments. Dzielak stated that the State Personnel Board sets salaries and they are consistent with other state departments.