By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant, who has been adamant in his opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage, “is exploring a number of ways to continue providing health care access to those who need it,” spokesman Mick Bullock said Wednesday.
Bullock’s comments come on the heels of published reports that Bryant had been in discussions with federal officials, including Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius, about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The first-term Republican governor has been an outspoken opponent of the federal law, including the provisions allowing states to expand Medicaid to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level or about $15,000 per year.
The funding and authorization of Mississippi’s existing Medicaid program, caught up in the fight over whether to expand the program, was killed during the 2013 regular session.
In earlier interviews, Bryant had indicated that he would not call a special session unless there were assurances from Democrats that they would re-authorize and fund the current program without becoming embroiled in a debate over expansion.
On Wednesday, spokesman Bullock touted the 21 Federally Qualified Health Center clinics as a way to enhance health care. Bullock said the clinics served more than 325,000 low-income patients in the state during 2012.
“The centers are operated through block grants and simply do not force us to expand something we cannot afford,” Bullock said.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said the clinics “can’t treat everybody,” and offer no inpatient care.
“The bottom line is that Gov. Bryant simply does not get it,” Holland said. ‘He has backed himself into a corner because of his far right political philosophy and is blind to how this (expansion) program can help working Mississippians.”
Holland said the Democrats in the House “are working every day on a true compromise. Give us one more week.”
Bryant says the state cannot afford the expansion. For the first three years the federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs of expansion and after that it would be stair-stepped down to 2020 when the state would be responsible for 10 percent.
Bryant has maintained even during the first three years there will be administrative costs to the state.
Bullock said at this point “we do not anticipate letters going out” to inform current Medicaid recipients of the possibility of the existing program ceasing to exist when the new year starts July 1.
Holland has said that Democrats are “strong” supporters of the existing program, but want the Republican leadership to allow a floor debate and vote on expanding Medicaid.
Currently the federal-state program covers about 640,000 disabled, elderly and poor pregnant women and poor children. The federal government pays about 74 percent of the costs for the existing program.