Medicaid director expects sufficient resources
CONCERNS – Dr. Warren Jones, left, executive director of the Mississippi Division of Medicaid, talks to Medicaid's Meridian Regional Office staffers Dianne Helfrich, Lisa Bozeman and Robert Barham on Thursday about coverage changes for Poverty Level Aged or Disabled (PLAD) beneficiaries in the Medicaid program. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
June 18, 2004
Swamped by more than 15,000 phone calls in a single week, the director of the state Medicaid Division said Thursday he believes resources will be available to help recipients get the medicines they need.
Dr. Warren A. Jones said the phone calls came and are still coming from often-distraught recipients or their families who fear losing prescription drug coverage under terms of a Medicaid reform bill passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Haley Barbour. Medicaid provides federal and state funded health coverage for the needy, aged, blind and disabled and for low-income families with children.
The changes in coverage are expected to affect about 65,000 Mississippians who rely on the Poverty Level Aged or Disabled (PLAD) program for prescription drugs. Most of them, about 60,000, according to officials, will be covered by Medicare, which is fully funded by the federal government.
But Medicare coverage, which in most cases is more limited in nature for prescription drugs, won't become effective immediately, leaving thousands of Medicaid recipients wondering how they can fill a possible gap in getting the medicines they need.
Asked if he had recommended that Barbour include the Medicaid issue in a special session call, Jones said, "I don't think it's my job to be a political adviser. My job is to advise him on the status of health.
Barbour is expected to call a special session late this month so legislators can re-authorize the state Department of Human Services, a job left unfinished in the 2004 session and a recently-completed special session. Without the action, DHS can't operate beyond June 30, the end of the state's fiscal year.
Only a governor can set a special session agenda.
Jones said if the governor decides to hold a special session, or if the Legislature decides to modify the division's direction, he will go along with it.
Barbour said he is considering a request from lawmakers to delay the Medicaid changes from July 1 to Oct. 1.
Legislators and Medicaid offices have been swamped with complaints and questions concerning the changes; protests have been launched in Jackson. Over the past few weeks, inadequate information has been available to recipients on getting their medicines through programs other than Medicaid, according to Jones.
Jones said he believes his best course is to educate Medicaid staff throughout the state so they can better educate Medicaid recipients on alternatives to getting medications after they lose prescription coverage later this year.
Barbour is also seeking federal permission to let Medicaid keep covering people who do not immediately qualify for Medicare.
State Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said Thursday he has heard from many constituents with legitimate concerns about the change. He is a member of the House Conservative Coalition, a group that asked Barbour to consider asking the Legislature to change the deadline to allow more time for people to be educated on the changes and to find resources to continue getting help on their prescriptions.
Jones said Medicaid managers and headquarters staff have been trained in the past few days on the variety of information available to recipients. He said he is also working with physicians, pharmacists, nursing homes and other healthcare professionals on how to advise recipients to obtain their prescription drugs. He visited Medicaid's Meridian Regional Office as part of the informational tour .