House Dems to present Medicaid alternative

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – House Democrats will announce their “compromise plan” today to provide health care to 300,000 Mississippians, many of whom are the working poor.
They have been at odds with Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and the Republican-controlled House and Senate over expanding Medicaid to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level or about $15,000 per year. The expansion is allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act.
According to information released Tuesday, the House Democrats’ plan “represents an alternative to and a compromise on Medicaid expansion. It covers 300,000 Mississippians, through a private, market-based approach at no net cost to the state.”
It appears Arkansas is being allowed to use funds that would have gone to expand Medicaid to instead allow people with no medical coverage to obtain private insurance.
The fight over expanding Medicaid resulted in the 2013 legislative session ending without Medicaid being funded or reauthorized for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.
House Democrats blocked funding and reauthorizing, demanding a vote on the floor on expanding the program. House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, who opposes the expansion, blocked the expansion vote.
Gunn and the Republican leadership are currently asking the state Ethics Commission to issue opinions on whether six House Republicans actually have conflicts that would prevent them from voting on Medicaid issues. The six did not vote during the 2013 session because of possible conflicts. Without those votes, the Republicans lacked the numbers to fund or reauthorize the existing Medicaid program.
Rep. Mac Huddleston, R-Pontotoc, who did not vote during the 2013 session, said, he will vote “if the Ethics Commission tells me I can. I can tell you if the Ethics Commission says it will be unethical, I will not vote.”
But Huddleston said he does not believe he has a conflict. He has not voted in the past because his wife is a doctor, though he said a small percentage of her patients are Medicaid recipients.
Rep. Margaret Ellis Rogers, R-New Albany, also said she would follow the advice of the Ethics Commission. Rogers has not been voting “out of an abundance of caution” because her father is a doctor.
Ethics Commission opinions are not binding, but provide public officials who follow them legal protection.
The commission is scheduled to meet June 14. It could rule then on the Ethics questions involving Rogers, Huddleston and other Republicans.
If the commission rules that some or all can vote, it might provide the Republicans enough votes to pass a Medicaid funding bill in a special session over Democrats’ objections.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com