Mississippi Medicaid Fight

By: Mike McDaniel
By: Mike McDaniel

When members of Mississippi's Legislative Black Caucus, all democrats, vowed to push for Medicaid expansion next year, senator and caucus chairman Kenneth Jones of Canton knew it wouldn't be easy.

"We cannot afford in Mississippi to have a 'let them die' attitude and we will not do that," said Jones.

An expansion would mean Medicaid coverage for all Mississippians up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that would be a qualifying income of about $30,000 a year. By expanding the program the state would get about $10 billion in federal money to cover the costs. That would cover a large majority of the more than half a million Mississippians who are currently uninsured.

"I think this is one issue where republicans and democrats need to sit down and say what's best for the state of Mississippi," said Jones.

Some republican counterparts may not entertain that idea. After the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, allowing states to opt out of an expansion, speaker of the house Philip Gunn came out against it.

"This act will be a budget-buster for our state and an additional burden on the taxpayers," said Gunn.

Gunn joined with Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves and Governor Phil Bryant in opposition to an expansion saying the state can't afford it. Reeves says an expansion would come with a state expense of about $1.7 billion over the next ten years. Jones recognizes budgetary constraints but says with the state spending money in areas like voter ID, why not put money in Medicaid.

"If there are some concerns about the finances then let's go ahead and see what we can do without jeopardizing the rest of our budget," said Jones.

Even with republicans, and their opposition, in control of both the house and senate, it doesn't mean these democratic lawmakers aren't going to try.

"If this is going to be a divisive issue with the state of Mississippi then so be it," said Jones. "We're going to let it be a divisive issue because we're going to fight for this more so than we've fought for anything else."


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