JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi State Department of Health has already laid off some workers in recent months because of state spending constraints and will cut more jobs after the new budget year begins July 1, the department's director told lawmakers Wednesday.
"Over the next several months, we will be also sending people home. We just don't know how many people yet," Dr. Mary Currier, the state health officer, said at the Capitol during a public hearing conducted by the Legislative Black Caucus.
Most agencies in Mississippi government will see spending reductions as part of the $6 billion budget for the coming year because tax collections are lagging.
Caucus members said they held the hearing because they believe many legislators received too few details before being asked to vote on the budget in April.
"We're trying to get as much information about the budget process as possible, the budget situation that some of these agencies are facing," said Rep. Jarvis Dortch, D-Raymond. "We didn't get a lot of that information during the session."
The Health Department's state funding will be cut 11 percent, a loss of about $4 million, in the new year.
Currier said the department laid off 64 workers at county health clinics in recent months, and 89 jobs in the clinics have been left vacant, because of a change in the way the Division of Medicaid pays the Health Department for some services. She said Medicaid is paying more than it used to pay to private health care providers, which means some patients who sought treatment at public health clinics are going to private providers. That translates into a one-third decrease in Medicaid payments to the Health Department.
Because of the drop in Medicaid money, the Health Department has closed nine of its own county clinics. Most were in counties with multiple clinics, but Benton County, bordering Tennessee, is now without one. Currier said the Health Department shortened hours in 41 of the remaining 87 clinics.
Currier said she and other department officials are still trying to figure out the full effects of a bill that restructures state budgets by eliminating the transfer of money from one agency to another. Although legislative leaders said the change is designed to simplify the budget process, Currier said it is causing confusion.
For example, she said that with the new ban on agencies paying one another for services, the price of vaccinations could increase. She said the Health Department has been purchasing vaccines covered by the Children's Health Insurance Program run by the Division of Medicaid. She said it has been done that way because the Health Department receives a good price through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If Medicaid has to buy the vaccines, it would use a different, and more expensive, multistate contract. Currier said the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine costs $20 per dose through the CDC and $62 through the other contract.