Governor calls special session to keep Medicaid afloat

JACKSON — Gov. Phil Bryant said today that he’s calling lawmakers into special session at 10 a.m. Thursday to keep the state’s Medicaid program alive and funded once the new state fiscal year begins July 1.

The Republican is not asking lawmakers to expand Medicaid, which is an option under the federal health care law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010.

Many Democrats have been pushing to expand Medicaid or to allow low-income working people to use federal subsidies to buy insurance on the private market.

However, Republican leaders say the state can’t afford to add another 300,000 people to Medicaid, and they don’t want to increase people’s dependence on government programs.

Medicaid is a federal-state health insurance program for the needy, aged, blind or disabled and for low-income families with children. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation, and its population is just short of 3 million. More than 644,000 Mississippians are already enrolled in Medicaid, and expansion could add an estimated 300,000.

Medicaid is one of several state programs that come up for legislative review and reauthorization every few years. Because of a partisan dispute over expansion, lawmakers ended their three-month regular session without reauthorizing or funding the program.

“It is unfortunate that Mississippi taxpayers must bear the expense of a special session because some lawmakers chose to make a political point during the regular session instead of acting responsibly to conduct state business at the appropriate time,” Bryant said in a news release Monday. “I urge the Legislature to act immediately upon convening to authorize and fund the Division of Medicaid. Taxpayers should not have to pay for days of political showmanship, and Medicaid beneficiaries deserve to be freed from the uncertainty that has been thrust upon them.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in his own statement that he had spoken with Bryant and House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, and all agreed the House would be the first to consider Medicaid reauthorization.

“I support extending the agency for one year to study ways to reform the program, improve care and find efficiencies to save money,” Reeves said. Earlier this year, the Senate reauthorized and funded Medicaid without expansion in a bipartisan vote. Unfortunately, the bill died in the House. I stand ready to pass similar bills in the special session.”

Republicans hold majorities in the House and Senate.

The governor appoints the Medicaid director, and Bryant had said in recent weeks that he believes he could run Medicaid by executive order if lawmakers fail to reauthorize the program. However, Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, issued a nonbinding legal opinion last week saying the governor would not have the power to do that.

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