House to hold Medicaid hearings

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The House Medicaid Committee will hold a hearing in the coming weeks on a broad range of Medicaid issues, including the controversial proposal to expand Medicaid to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Thus far the House leadership has worked to block any debate of whether the state should participate in the option under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid to cover those earning up to about $15,000 annually for an individual or about $34,000 for a family of four.
House Medicaid Chair Bobby Howell, R-Kilmichael, said Thursday the hearing will be “about Medicaid in general. Obviously, the expansion will be part of that.”
He said he does not have a firm date for the hearing yet because he is still working to line up those who will be presenters.
“I have had numerous requests,” he said. “I don’t mind openness … We could have two weeks of hearings and not cover all the issues. The issues are evolving with the full enactment of the Affordable Care Act.”
Thus far debate on the issue that House Minority Leader Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto has said “could be the biggest in a generation in terms of health care” has been blocked by the House Republican majority. The House leadership has blocked any bills from coming to the floor that could be amended by Democrats to allow the state to participate in the expansion.
But in doing so, all legislation has been killed that would authorize the Division of Medicaid past June 30, which is when it is repealed under existing law.
On Thursday, Gov. Phil Bryant, who has been an outspoken opponent of the expansion, said he believes he can run the agency through executive order if it is repealed.
Bryant said he would prefer not to, but insisted he would not call a special session to deal with the expansion “until we have some agreement (among legislators) on how to move forward.
At this point it will take a two-thirds vote to revive a re-authorization bill or a special session called by the governor.
Bryant also said he has not been swayed by the fact other Republican governors, including most recently Florida Gov. Rick Scott, have opted to participate in the expansion.
Most Mississippi Republican state officials have said they oppose the expansion, at least in part because of the costs to the state. Studies conflict on the costs to the state since the federal government will pay for the bulk of the program.
While there is no re-authorization bill alive, the House on Thursday passed legislation to fund the agency for the coming year.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said Howell’s decision to hold a hearing “is a move in the right direction. We would rather that it had occurred when there was a bill before us. But you have to crawl, walk and then run.”
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com