House passes bill increasing ID requirements for Medicaid

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi House Republicans passed a bill Friday that would require regular audits of Medicaid recipients and penalize those who fail to update their records.

The House voted 76-40 to pass House Bill 1116 without debating it because of a standoff between Democrats and Republicans. The vote was divided by party, with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition, sending it to the Senate for more work.

The bill would require officials to maintain a computerized record of Medicaid recipients’ information and check it against information from federal databases. The state would pay an outside company to develop the system, which the Division of Medicaid and Department of Human Services would share.

Aid recipients would have to report personal information, including their income and other earnings, housing, Social Security information, immigration status and work status. They would also be required to verify their records every three months by answering “knowledge-based quizzes” on their financial and personal information.

The state would notify recipients if it needed more information or suspected fraud. But if recipients don’t send a written response within 10 days, the state would cut off aid until the issue is resolved.

The bill also says Mississippi won’t ever again seek a waiver of work requirements for food stamp and welfare programs and that Mississippi’s 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.

Recipients who fail to comply with those programs’ rules would get three strikes before permanently losing aid, at the same time temporarily disqualifying anyone else in their household.

Recipients convicted of identity fraud could face additional fines and criminal prosecution. The state could garnish recipients’ wages or their state income tax refunds to recover any money lost to fraud.

The bill would also disqualify recipients for failing to comply with requirements set by other state welfare agencies and for using electronic benefit cards for banned purchases, including alcohol, tobacco products, music concerts and sports games.

Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, said the bill would put restrictions on Medicaid recipients but would not punish doctors, pharmacists or other Medicaid providers who might commit fraud. She said the bill appears designed to help a private company get a big-dollar contract from the state.

“You’re going to still have to escalate the number of people that work for the (Division) of Medicaid in order for you to enact this legislation, I tell you,” Scott said Friday after the bill was passed.

She said Republicans are not running an administration that seeks small government.

“This is … big government for folks that they are trying to give money to,” Scott said.

Rep. Jason White, R-West, who sponsored the bill, said it’s meant to prevent fraud and waste. He said the system would alert officials to signs of potential fraud, like if a recipient files a homestead exemption in another state.

“This is an attempt to have a continual audit,” he said. “We don’t need to be giving Medicaid to people in other states. If we’re just smart about it and use technology and check, we can improve the system.”

He said that in addition to federal rules, the bill would establish state rules, like the written notices, to keep recipients from unfairly losing aid. “Anybody who does get flagged won’t just get kicked off right there,” he said.