- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Lawmakers are unlikely to reconsider a bill requiring audits of Medicaid recipients and tightening restrictions on other government aid.

A joint House-Senate committee filed the latest version of House Bill 1116 Monday, but the House decided Tuesday to send it back for more consideration. The Senate hasn’t discussed the bill yet. Both legislative chambers would have to approve the bill before it would go to Gov. Phil Bryant.

The joint committee could change the bill and send it back to both legislative chambers for approval, but it has a Thursday deadline for doing so before the bill dies.

As of the version filed Monday, the bill would have an outside company build an electronic records system for Medicaid. Officials would periodically verify recipients’ financial information and residency to determine whether they’re still eligible for aid.

The bill would require Medicaid applicants to complete a computerized questionnaire to verify their eligibility before receiving aid, and then recipients would be audited every three months to check that they’re still eligible.

Any discrepancy in a recipient’s records would earn a written notice; those who don’t respond in writing within 10 business days would have their aid cut indefinitely.

The Division of Medicaid would be required to share information with the Department of Human Services. Any discrepancy in a recipient’s Medicaid records would require investigation into that recipient’s eligibility for any other programs.

The bill also included broad language tightening restrictions on food stamp and welfare programs and setting penalties for recipients who violate any of the programs’ work or gross income requirements.

It said Mississippi’s food stamp and welfare programs can’t be any more generous than required by federal law. A family wouldn’t be allowed to count a newborn as a household member if the household received welfare aid for the previous 10 months, for example.

Officials wouldn’t be allowed to seek a waiver of work requirements for the programs. Recipients who don’t meet requirements would lose aid and their household would be temporarily disqualified, for up to six months in some cases.

Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, said the bill was setting broad punitive measures that would bar needy families from getting life-saving services.

“Mississippi has these programs because we’re the poorest state and people need them,” he said. “You’re putting more punitive measures that would deny people life-saving resources and ultimately children would go hungry. If we want to help families get out of poverty this is going in the wrong direction.”

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