Medicaid, charter debates under way

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Charter schools and Medicaid expansion – the two issues expected to be the most contentious during the 2013 session – took center stage Monday.
On the eve of the session’s start today, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, speaking to the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government/Capitol press corps luncheon, said he doesn’t think the Legislature will take up the issue of state participation in Medicaid expansion offered under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“At this point in time we don’t have all the facts regarding Obamacare,” Reeves said.
He said the state needs more information for the coming years on how not participating in the expansion that will cover people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level will affect Mississippi hospitals.
On the same day, a new Health Access Coalition, which includes the Mississippi Hospital Association, Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference and about 10 other groups, announced its formation to advocate for the state to participate in the expansion.
Gov. Phil Bryant in particular has been an outspoken opponent of state participation in the expansion, saying it would be too costly.
There are conflicting studies on the expansion’s potential impact on Mississippi’s budget – especially since the federal government will pay the bulk of the cost.
Reeves said Monday he wants to know if the payment to hospitals for the uncompensated care they provide still will be phased out as originally intended under the new federal health care law.
The Mississippi Hospital Association has contended that if it is and Mississippians without health insurance are not provided access to Medicaid, it could be devastating to many of the state’s hospitals.
Reeves said federal officials have indicated the uncompensated care will not be phased out during the next year – meaning he sees no need for the Legislature to act during the 2013 session on the expansion.
On another issue – charter schools – Reeves is hoping the Legislature does act.
Last year legislation to make it much easier for charter schools to locate in Mississippi passed the Senate but died in the House.
Reeves said he remains a strong proponent of allowing charter schools, which receive public funds but do not fall within the governance of traditional public schools, to locate anywhere in the state.
As for where charter schools should be allowed to locate, he said, “…I don’t think the Mississippi Legislature should decide that. I think the parents should decide that.”
A group of business leaders, including former Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Dennis of the Gulf Coast and Hu Meena, head of C Spire Wireless, announced the formation of Better Education for Mississippi to advocate for strong charter school legislation.
The group held a news conference at the Capitol on Monday to announce that a poll it conducted found 65 percent of Mississippians support allowing “charter schools to be formed in any school district.”
Reeves said charter schools “are not a panacea to fix all of education’s woes, but it is an additional tool in the toolbox.”
The Legislature will convene the 90-day session at noon today to debate charter schools, Medicaid expansion and numerous other issues.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com