By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The Mississippi Legislature will return in special session at 10 a.m. Thursday to try to fund and re-authorize the Division of Medicaid before it is repealed at midnight Sunday.
Gov. Phil Bryant announced the special session Monday afternoon.
If the Legislature is unable to reach agreement, chaos and uncertainty would be created for the federal-state agency and the 644,000 elderly, disabled, poor pregnant women and poor children who receive their heath care through Medicaid.
“I urge the Legislature to act immediately upon convening to authorize and fund the Division of Medicaid,” Bryant said in a statement. “Taxpayers should not have to pay for days of political showmanship, and Medicaid beneficiaries deserve to be freed from the uncertainty that has been thrust upon them.”
During the 2013 regular session, Medicaid was not funded or reauthorized for the new fiscal year because of strife in the state House where the Democratic minority sought to force Speaker Phil Gunn, R-Clinton, to allow a vote in the chamber on expanding Medicaid to cover 300,000 additional Mississippians, primary the working poor.
The expansion is allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act, which the state’s Republican leadership has actively opposed.
Thanks to a recent state Ethics Commission ruling removing conflict of interest concerns and allowing six Republican House members to vote on Medicaid issues, it appears that the majority party might have the votes to pass a funding bill over Democratic objections. But if taxes on health care providers, requiring a three-fifths vote, remain in the reauthorization bill, Republicans might still have a difficult time extending Medicaid.
In the past, many House Democrats, such as Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, have said they want a vote on expansion and, if they lose, they would vote to continue the existing program.
In the past, Gunn has been adamant in preventing that vote from occurring. Questions about whether he would allow such a vote in the special session were not answered Monday.
In a statement, he placed blame squarely on the Democrats for the special session.
“The only reason we are having to come back and incur the cost of a special session is because the Democratic leadership made a misguided decision to convince their Democratic colleagues that not reauthorizing or funding Medicaid was a good move,” Gunn said.
He said, “It is irresponsible that the Democratic leadership has used them (people in the program) as pawns to make a political point.”
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said it is Bryant who is playing politics. He said the governor is turning down $1 million per day in federal funds to expand Medicaid, “so he can say he did not enact Obamacare.” Bryan said the funds, which will be available Jan. 1, will not cost the state any money the first three years and there is no obligation for how long the state must participate in the program.
Asked if there would be an effort in the Senate to expand Medicaid, he said, “I believe the merits are with us who want to expand the program. Maybe if we can get everybody together and talk about it, we can convince others.”
It is not clear whether Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, would allow an expansion proposal to be offered on the floor.
“It would be premature to speculate on amendments before a bill has been drafted,” said Reeves spokeswoman Laura Hipp.
Reeves did say in prepared remarks, “I support extending the agency for one year to study ways to reform the program, improve care and find efficiencies to save money.”