Palazzo opposes Medicaid expansion to cover health care reform

HATTIESBURG — Freshman U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo says Mississippi should not expand Medicaid to cover more people under the federal health care overhaul.

Speaking to constituents at a luncheon in Hattiesburg, Palazzo said he agrees with Gov. Phil Bryant, a fellow Republican, that the state can’t afford to expand Medicaid, even with the federal government paying the full cost of expansion through 2016. After that, states that expand their programs would pay 5 percent of the cost through 2019, and 10 percent of the cost starting in 2020.

Palazzo was elected to Congress in 2010, after President Barack Obama had signed the Affordable Care Act. Palazzo opposes the law and said people should take better care of their own health.

“People have got to be held accountable for what they put in their mouth and whether or not they exercise,” Palazzo said, according to WDAM-TV.

Palazzo said expanding Medicaid would cost Mississippi money in the long run.

“At first the federal government is going to come in like they always do, give you a little teaser money, and then in the out years, the money dries up,” he said, according to the Hattiesburg American.

The federal law says states should expand Medicaid to people with income up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, about $30,650 for a family of four. The federal government will pay most of the cost in the early years of the expansion. Mississippi currently allows Medicaid enrollment for people whose income is up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level, about $23,050 for a family of four.

Mississippi had 641,454 people enrolled in Medicaid in May. That’s about 22 percent of its nearly 3 million residents.

Bryant and other Republican leaders frequently cite a study by consulting firm Milliman that says the Affordable Care Act would add 400,000 people to Mississippi’s Medicaid rolls. The Kaiser Family Foundation gives a lower estimate of how many people could enroll in Medicaid in Mississippi if the state expands coverage under the federal law — about 330,000.

Palazzo said Mississippi budget writers could be forced to cut other programs to pay for Medicaid if the program grows.

“So, do we want to cut education? Do we want to cut corrections? Do we want to cut our state troopers?” he said. “Or do we raise taxes on Mississippians when we’re trying to foster a healthy business climate and attract new businesses? It’s a Catch-22, and that’s what the federal government is famous for doing, giving us a little money and then forgetting about the hooks that we’re going to have to pay later.”

Palazzo is seeking a second, two-year term. He is challenged in the Nov. 6 general election by Democrat Michael Herrington of Hattiesburg, Libertarian Ron Williams of Pascagoula and Reform Party candidate Robert Claunch of Diamondhead.

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