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Medicaid spokesman questions whether expansion will spur growth

JACKSON — A spokesman for Mississippi’s Medicaid program is questioning the notion that expanding the federal-state health insurance program is the way to spur economic growth.

Francis X. Rullan says he’s speaking only for himself in this instance. But he says it’s not a good idea to base an economic development effort on the dependency of a large group of poor or disabled people.

Warren Yoder of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi says he’s surprised that the program’s spokesman takes such a negative view.

“I am truly astonished that the Division of Medicaid thinks Medicaid creates dependency in the sick and disabled,” Yoder said.

Rullan and Yoder made the comments yesterday at a College Board economic forecasting conference. The exchange comes as Democrats push to expand the program in line with President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul. Gov. Phil Bryant, who directly controls the Medicaid agency, opposes the expansion.

Bryant, a Republican has said repeatedly that expanding Medicaid would be too expensive and he doesn’t want to increase people’s dependence on government.

The study predicts about 300,000 Mississippians would be covered by the Medicaid expansion. Today, more than 600,000 people, or about one in five Mississippi residents, are covered by Medicaid.

Proponents say expanding Medicaid will create 9,000 jobs and boost the state’s economy by pulling down more federal money. “Mississippi not participating in that leaves a lot of jobs on the table,” Yoder said.

Rullan said that the amount of money required for Medicaid and the number of people it serves have continued to grow in Mississippi. He said that in his view, social programs should help people temporarily, not on a permanent basis.

“We’ve succeeded in putting more people on the program every year,” Rullan said.

Expanding Medicaid would bring Mississippi more federal money from 2014 through 2016 but could cost the state millions of dollars from 2017 through 2025, according to a study by College Board economists.

In states that allow expansion starting in January 2014, Medicaid could go to people whose income is up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $23,800 for a family of three, based on 2011 figures.

Each state currently sets its own income thresholds for Medicaid eligibility. In Mississippi, a family of three can have an annual income of no more than $8,160 a year, well below the 2011 federal poverty level of $17,916 annually. As a result, Mississippi’s program mainly serves pregnant mothers, their children, disabled adults and nursing home patients.

Washington would pay 100 percent of the costs of expanding Medicaid from 2014 to 2016. Between 2017 and 2020, the federal share would decrease to 90 percent and the states’ contribution would rise in stages to 10 percent, where the law says it’s supposed to stay.


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