By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – State House Democrats finally got to vote on a version of a Medicaid expansion proposal Thursday on the opening day of a special session that lasted into the early evening.
Democrats lost that vote, 65-51.
The Legislature is in special session because the existing Medicaid program covering 644,000 people – poor pregnant women, poor children, the disabled and the elderly – was not funded or reauthorized during the regular session for the new fiscal year, which starts Monday.
The vote on expanding Medicaid came on an amendment offered by Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, that would prevent the $840 million Medicaid appropriation from being spent until the House voted on a bill to expand Medicaid.
After the Moak amendment was defeated following about 30 minutes of debate, the full House went on to fund the Medicaid program by an overwhelming margin.
Rep. Bob Evans said the vote to expand Medicaid “was a chance to help the working poor … These are working people who through no fault of their own can’t afford to buy health insurance. They are working and doing the best they can.”
The Republican leadership of the state has blocked efforts to expand Medicaid to cover 300,000 Mississippians, who have been identified as primarily the working poor, because they have said it would be too expensive. House Democrats have argued that the federal government would pay most of the cost of the expansion – including 100 percent during the first three years, starting in January, as part of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“There is nothing in federal law saying you have to do it (expansion) now,” said House Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville. “I still do not believe we know everything we need to know (from federal officials) before moving in that direction.”
During the 2013 regular session, the Medicaid program was caught up in efforts of House Democrats to force Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, to allow a vote on Medicaid expansion. He refused.
On the opening day of the special session Thursday, the House voted to both reauthorize and to fund the health care program, something it could not do in the regular session. But both bills were held on parliamentary maneuvers meaning they cannot be taken up by the Senate before Friday.
With the votes on funding and reauthorization, House members were waiting to see if the governor expanded the special session so they could consider legislation dealing with the functioning of the agency, including taxes on health care providers to help fund Medicaid.
House Democrats were wanting that proposal to include a one-year repealer on the agency to ensure that debate on expansion is held during the 2014 session.
All the amendments offered by the House Democrats on Thursday were defeated along essentially straight party-line votes, but if that voting trend continues they would have the votes to block the revenue proposal since it would require a three-fifths vote.
While Thursday was filled with action in the House, the Senate continues to wait to take up the House bills.
“As soon as the House sends over bills to reauthorize and fund Medicaid, the Senate will act swiftly as it did during the regular session,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said.
Last week Reeves said he supported extending the program for one year, which is the normal custom, but on Thursday he would only say he is working to reach a solution when asked if he supported the House Democrats’ efforts to enact a one-year repealer.
Bryant said, “I commend Speaker Gunn for his leadership and thank the House of Representatives for voting to reauthorize and fund the Division of Medicaid. I look forward to working with Lt. Gov. Reeves and the Senate and anticipate their swift action on these matters.”