New coalition tries to reignite Medicaid debate in state

October 14, 2014
Bobby Harrison

JACKSON – It may be nothing more than tilting at windmills, but a coalition announced recently a new effort to get the Legislature to expand Medicaid in Mississippi.

The MS Left Me Out coalition, which includes the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, Center for Justice, American Cancer Society, the Economic Policy Center, NAACP and others, maintains that if Mississippi expands Medicaid to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, about 300,000 primarily working Mississippians would receive health insurance coverage. Such an expansion is allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act.

But the state Republican leadership is adamant that Medicaid expansion won’t occur.

When asked if he plans to propose an alternative during the 2015 session to deal with the high number of uninsured in Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant said, “I’m hopeful that Republicans will take back the U.S. Senate in November and implement real solutions to the healthcare landscape of America. The Affordable Care Act has been a disaster since its inception and is another failed policy of the Obama administration.”

Laura Hipp, spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, said, “Lt. Gov. Reeves has been having meetings with people to discuss priorities for the upcoming session but is not ready to announce plans yet. He does not believe Obamacare expansion is the right approach for Mississippi taxpayers.”

In earlier interviews, Bryant has cited the ongoing expansion of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson to produce more physicians and work to improve the state’s economy as efforts he endorsed to provide more Mississippians access to health care.

But the MS Left Me Out coalition points to states that have expanded Medicaid under the ACA and embraced other aspects of the law and have seen their number of uninsured decline significantly. Thus far more than half the states have expanded Medicaid.

Mississippi is seeing an increase in the number of its uninsured.

The MS Left Me Out coalition is trying to personalize the Medicaid expansion issue by highlighting and telling the story of Mississippians the coalition says could benefit.

For instance, the group cites Rhonda, a Brookhaven fast-food employee who earns too much to qualify for the state’s existing Medicaid program but doesn’t make enough to afford private health insurance. The coalition cites her as someone who could benefit from Medicaid expansion

“I live in pain and stay in pain,” the group’s press releases quote Rhonda as saying. “It’s a balance of whether you take medicine and try to survive or you eat, keep yourself clothed or keep the lights on. It’s a matter of survival.”

The group has more similar stories on its web site at www.msleftmeout.org.

For the first three years of the Medicaid expansion portion of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government pays 100 percent of the health care costs associated with the expansion. It stair-steps down to 90 percent paid by the federal government in 2020 and is to remain at that level.

Under the expansion an individual earning up to about $15,000 per year or $32,000 for a family of four would be eligible.