By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Mississippi House Democrats won a victory Thursday that could lead to at least “a discussion” on the House floor about the expansion of Medicaid.
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, states have an option to expand Medicaid to cover people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level or about $15,000 annually.
But Republican leaders, led by Gov. Phil Bryant, have opposed the expansion saying the state could not afford it even though the federal government would cover the bulk of the costs.
But many Democrats contend the state cannot afford not to take advantage of the opportunity, which would provide health care for about 300,000 primarily working Mississippians and inject billions in federal funds into the state’s economy.
On Thursday, the Republican leadership brought up for debate on the House floor what is known as the Medicaid technical amendments bill. It makes changes to the massive Medicaid law and re-authorizes the program.
The House bill did not include the section of law that would allow Democrats the opportunity to offer an amendment to expand Medicaid. There is a similar bill in the Senate where the amendment could be offered.
“If you want the opportunity to discuss expansion you do not need to vote for this bill,” Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said on the House floor.
Republicans got a 61-52 vote for their proposal, but since it includes taxes and revenue it needed a three-fifths vote or 68 votes to pass.
Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, called the effort of House Democrats “a misguided approach” and said in a news release because of the action of House Democrats “Medicaid will no longer exist.”
Bryant called the action of House Democrats “shameful” and said he is prepared to operate the agency by executive order.
Democrats pointed out Medicaid authorization does not end until July 1, and it is not unusual each year for the bill reauthorizing the agency to be one of the last items completed during the session. The session ends in early April.
Medicaid currently provides health care for about 640,000 disabled, poor pregnant women, poor children and certain segments of the elderly, including most nursing home residents in Mississippi.