By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Members of the Legislative Black Caucus said Tuesday it would negatively affect the state’s health care providers and citizens not to use the federal money available to expand the number of people covered through the Medicaid program.
“It is inexcusable to leave $10 billion (in federal funds) on the table…and still leave some 400,000 people without access to health care,” said Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, who was among several members of the Legislative Black Caucus who held a news conference at the state Capitol along with Jackson-area health care professionals to tout the benefits to Mississippi of the Affordable Care Act.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that the controversial new law is constitutional. But the high court also said that the federal government could not penalize states by withholding federal funds for the existing Medicaid program if they do not participate in the Medicaid expansion called for in the law.
The Affordable Care Act calls for expanding Medicaid to cover people earning 133 percent of the federal poverty level (or $14,400 annually.) But after the Supreme Court said that states could not be penalized if they do not participate in the expansion, various Republican state leaders have indicated that they do not believe Mississippi can afford the added costs.
Gov. Phil Bryant has said he fears spending state dollars for the expansion would take money away from other vital programs, such as education, public safety and economic development.
Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, noted that for the first three years of the Medicaid expansion, which begins in 2014, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs. Then it will be stair-stepped down to 2020 where there will be a commitment for the federal government to pay 90 percent.
In Mississippi, the federal government currently pays about $3 for each $1 spent by the state to cover pregnant women, poor children, the disabled and a segment of the elderly population.
Flaggs said he is urging House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, to form a committee to study the issue.
“Let’s go slow….and see how Mississippi can benefit,” Flaggs said.
Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, chair of the Black Caucus, said he and other legislators will be working with members of the minority health care associations that attended Tuesday’s news conference to gather information for the 2013 session where he believes the Medicaid expansion will be an issue.