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Battle of Medicaid expansion continues in Legislature

JACKSON — Mississippi House Democrats said they are trying to bring pressure on Republicans to revive a Medicaid bill that’s blocked in a committee.

Republicans, meanwhile, say Democrats are playing politics with a government health insurance program that covers about one in every five Mississippi residents.

The Mississippi Medicaid program is up for renewal this year, as it is every few years. Unless lawmakers agree on a bill, the program will expire when the current budget year ends June 30.

The federal health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010 gives states the option of expanding Medicaid to people making 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s about $15,000 a year. The cutoff in Mississippi is about $5,500.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and other GOP leaders, including House Speaker Philip Gunn, oppose expansion. They say the state can’t afford to add an estimated 288,000 to 300,000 people to a program that already enrolls more than 640,000 in a state with a population of roughly three million. The federal government would pay most of the tab for expansion, but Bryant said he doesn’t trust that promises of federal funding will be fulfilled.

Gunn said Friday that he doesn’t want to put the House through “a long and divisive debate” on expansion because he believes has little chance of passing.

“Until we have a clearer understanding of all the ramifications of Obamacare and its proposed expansion in Mississippi, there will not be a debate in the Mississippi House of Representatives,” Gunn said.

Democrats say expanding Medicaid could support an estimated 9,000 health care jobs in Mississippi and could help hospitals avoid layoffs. House Democratic Leader Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said Monday that at least 40 of the 55 House Democrats have filed resolutions asking the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee to reconsider action it took last Thursday to block a Senate bill. The Senate bill did not include Medicaid expansion, but it could be amended.

“You’ve got to throw it to the House floor, and you’ve got to have a full debate on it,” Moak told reporters yesterday.

At this point, there are no surviving bills that would keep Medicaid in business beyond June 30. Lawmakers are scheduled to remain in session through early April. They have the option, until the end of this month, to revive the Senate bill that is blocked in the House Rules Committee. Or, with a two-thirds vote of the full House and Senate, lawmakers could agree to file a new Medicaid bill to renew debate on how to handle the program. Another option would be for Republican Gov. Phil Bryant to call a special session, possibly during the regular session, to keep Medicaid alive.

Six Republican governors have proposed expanding Medicaid in their states to cover more low-income residents, citing the financial realities of their states’ medical costs.

The law says the federal government would pay 100 percent of medical expenses for the newly qualified enrollees from 2014 to 2017, then the federal share would be reduced to 90 percent by 2020, with each state paying the balance.



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