Medicaid director warns of funding issues

Posted by Max Reiss – bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) – Alabama's Medicaid Commissioner says the healthcare program is in as worse shape as it has ever been in.

Dr. Bob Mullins, who was named the agency's head back in December, said it took the governor several opportunities to recruit him for the job that he knew was going to be a struggle.

"I turned him down three times" Mullins said. "But then after the third time, I sat down with my wife and we prayed about it, and then after about a week, I decided I couldn't not take the job."

Mullins said he knew he was entering a difficult position but that he couldn't possibly turn down his childhood friend who is now the state's top executive.

"I've known him for 60 years. I remember when they built his parents house growing up in Columbiana."

One of the more difficult tasks for Mullins was addressing the Alabama Medicaid Agency's funding crisis. Like the Alabama Department of Education, Medicaid also received a massive injection of one-time Federal Stimulus dollars that were used to keep the department on firm financial footing. But now that money has expired and there's no indication the Federal Government will issue another reprieve.

"What I had not realized was the impact the loss of the Federal Stimulus funds were going to have on the budget. We lost $270 million right off the bat."

For the 2011 fiscal year, lawmakers appropriated $345.3 million through the General Fund Budget which was in addition to the $4.9 billion in earmarked funds. The Federal Stimulus funds made up the difference needed for the agency to operate.

Lawmakers are in the process of crafting the General Fund Budget for the 2012 fiscal year and Mullins has pleaded with lawmakers to appropriate more than twice the amount from last year.

"We're asking for roughly $700 million" Mullins said. "That's about 40% of the General Fund and we need it."

In his budget recommendations, Governor Bentley appropriated $647.6 million for the Alabama Medicaid Agency. Bentley said he placed Medicaid in a particular category of state departments that needs to face as few cuts as possible.

Mullins said the department cannot possibly cut any more without serious risks of the Federal Government intervening to take over the operation of the program in Alabama. He said it is possible that the agency could reduce its Home Health and Pharmacy programs. However, Mullins said those programs are "essential" to Medicaid's service to those enrolled.

On the Federal Government taking control of the Alabama Medicaid Agency, Mullins said he does not want the state to make history by the legislature failing to fund the agency fully.

"If the state fails to fund Medicaid and Medicaid has to fold, it will revert back to the Federal Government and the Federal Government will take over the program and administer it. That's never happened in the United States so no one would know what would happen if that happened."

Despite his concerns about how the Medicaid Agency will receive its funding, Mullins said he has no regrets about taking the job.

"None. None at all" he said.

Legislative leaders have said they hope to pass budgets before the end of the session as has been the normal procedure in the past.

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