By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – House Democrats, trying every option available to force a vote by the full chamber on expanding Medicaid, blocked from passage Sunday the bill that would fund the state-federal health care agency.
The Republican majority is expected to try again today to garner the votes needed to pass the Medicaid appropriations bill that includes $840 million in state funds.
“From day one, we have asked for a floor debate and vote on expanding Medicaid, and we have been given no respect,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. “We’re having to do what we can to get one.”
To pass a budget bill requires a majority of the elected membership. There were 58 votes in favor of the budget for Medicaid and 49 “no” votes. There are 64 Republicans and three vacancies by death in the 122-member chamber, meaning passage requires 60 votes.
Some members do not vote on the issue because they have a monetary interest in a health care provider that receives Medicaid payments.
Earlier this session, Democrats were able to kill legislation that would extend the Medicaid program past its June 30 expiration date. Many state agencies have a repeal date and must be re-authorized.
After the Democrats blocked the re-authorization of Medicaid, the Republican leadership said it could be taken up in a special session if enough Democrats changed their vote. Or, perhaps Gov. Phil Bryant could run the agency through executive order. But if the Democrats can kill the appropriations bill, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario where the governor could run the agency through executive order.
“It is hard to run an agency through executive order if there is no money, period,” Holland said.
The Democrats want a vote on expanding the Medicaid program to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000 per year for an individual. The expansion, with the federal government paying the bulk of the cost, is allowed under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Republicans oppose the expansion, and Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, has blocked all efforts to bring the issue up for a vote before the full chamber.
On Sunday, Gunn said, “obviously we want to pass the (appropriations) bill” and chastised Democrats for “voting again” to kill the program that provides health care to about 640,000 disabled, poor pregnant women, poor children and certain segments of the elderly.
Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, the Democratic leader, said his party supports the current Medicaid program, but believes it should be expanded to cover the working poor. It is estimated that an additional 300,000 people could be covered through an expansion and many of those would be the working poor.
Most of the other budget bills passed Sunday with little or no opposition.
The Legislature must pass the more than 100 bills that fund state government and the revenue and bond bills by today or take extraordinary action requiring a two-thirds vote to extend the session past its scheduled end date next Sunday. Another option would be a special session.