Medicaid may require special session

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – No legislation is alive to re-authorize the Division or Medicaid or to fund the state-federal health care agency with less than a week left in the 2013 session of the Mississippi Legislature.
On Tuesday, the House leadership failed for the second consecutive day to garner the 60 votes needed to pass the bill funding the agency. There were 57 votes in favor of appropriating $840 million to fund the agency and 50 votes against.
All those voting no were Democrats. Republicans, led by Gov. Phil Bryant, said Democrats were putting in jeopardy a program that provides health care for about 640,000 elderly, disabled, poor pregnant women and poor children.
At this point, the House and Senate would have to garner a two-thirds majority to revive legislation to fund and to re-authorize the program or Bryant would have to call a special session. Otherwise, as of July 1, at the start of a new fiscal year, the program will not be funded and essentially will cease to exist.
Democrats said their intent is not to hurt the current program but to force a vote on the House floor on expanding Medicaid to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level as allowed by the federal Affordable Care Act.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, who opposes the expansion, has blocked a vote by the full House.
In a statement, Bryant said, “Democrats are playing a political game with the lives” of Medicaid recipients, adding “let the record reflect that Democrats in the Mississippi House have voted twice to withdraw funding and services for Mississippi’s nursing homes, hospitals and other vital programs.”
“We have just been asking for a debate and vote on the floor of the House,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. “We didn’t say we had to win or lose. I understand losing.
“If we lose, Holland will shut up. Otherwise I will continue to stand up for the working poor. As for the existing program, I think the record will show nobody has more experience dealing with it and more passion for it than I do.”
Holland said the issue of being able to provide health care to an additional 300,000 people, primarily the working poor, is too important not to debate on the floor of the House.
Gunn maintained Tuesday the Democrats had no chance of garnering the three-fifths majority needed to expand Medicaid so he saw no reason to put the chamber through a contentious debate.
If the state does expand Medicaid, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the medical costs for the first three years, starting in January. Starting in 2020, the share paid by the federal government will drop to 90 percent.
For the current program, the federal government pays 73 percent of the costs.
Also on Monday, the House and Senate passed a $196 million bond issue to finance long-term construction projects and completed the task of passing the bills that fund public education and state agencies with the exception of Medicaid.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com