House leaders move to block Medicaid debate

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The Republican leadership of the state House on Thursday killed a Senate bill re-authorizing Medicaid to ensure that the chamber does not get to vote on expanding Medicaid as part of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Gov. Phil Bryant praised House Speaker Philip Gunn, calling his action blocking debate on Medicaid expansion “a bold move.”
“Until we have a clearer understanding of all the ramifications of Obamacare and its proposed expansion in Mississippi, there will not be a debate in the Mississippi House,” said Gunn, R-Clinton, in a news release.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said if the leadership would allow the issue to be debated in the chamber there might be a better understanding.
“That is all we are asking is to have a conversation,” said House Democratic Leader Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto. “…For some reason our colleagues are afraid to have a conversation.”
The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, allows states to opt into a program to expand Medicaid to cover those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level or about $15,000 per year. Bryant – an outspoken opponent of the federal law – has said the state cannot afford to participate.
But others say studies indicate Mississippi will suffer in delivery of health care and in economic development if it does not participate.
Earlier this session Democrats killed a House bill that re-authorzed Medicaid because it did not include the language that could be amended to opt into the Medicaid expansion.
The Senate re-authorization bill did not expand Medicaid, but it could be amended to allow for the expansion. Senate Public Health Chair Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, said he opposes the expansion, but wants to keep all options open throughout the session as more information is gathered.
But on Thursday, Gunn sent Kirby’s Senate bill to the Rules Committee that killed it. The bill normally would have gone to the House Medicaid Committee.
Gunn said House leaders will try this morning to revive the House bill that Democrats killed earlier this session. It will take a three-fifths majority to pass that measure.
If the leadership is unsuccessful, Gunn said Bryant might have to run the agency by executive order.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com