HOB BRYAN: Medicaid money: Will it come here or go elsewhere?

By Sen. Hob Bryan

Gov. Phil Bryant says the legislature should reauthorize the division of Medicaid and wait until we have more information before making a decision about expanding the program. The state Senate unanimously voted to do that very thing, but Speaker Phillip Gunn – with the support of the governor – had our proposal sent to the house rules committee to be killed. Apparently Gov. Bryant and Speaker Gunn feel they don’t need any more information. They’ve killed a bill because they are afraid to debate it. I hope they’ll reconsider.
Medicaid is going to be expanded, and Mississippi taxpayers are going to pay for it. The issue is whether our federal tax dollars will go to provide health care and save jobs in other states, or whether we will allow those dollars to come to Mississippi.
The Affordable Care Act changes how doctors, hospitals, and others are paid. Some payments will be reduced or eliminated, and those cuts are mandatory. The impact on hospitals and others could be severe, resulting in lost jobs and reduced services for everyone. The cuts are to be offset by an increase in Medicaid eligibility, with the federal government paying the entire cost at first, and eventually paying 90 per cent. This expansion would help reduce the impact on providers.
Mississippi has the option to refuse this additional money, and apparently the governor has made up his mind we should reject it.
That puts him at odds with the Republican governors of at least eight states, including Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Ohio and North Dakota. They are among the most conservative governors in the nation, and they certainly haven’t decided they support President Obama or the health care act. They have simply made the decision that’s right for their states.
Tens of thousands of Mississippians work at low paying jobs which do not provide health care. They work as construction workers, truck drivers, cashiers and other jobs, and many of them work a lot harder than legislators and governors. They pay taxes. They just can’t afford individual health care policies, and if they have pre-existing conditions, coverage is especially expensive.
It’s never seemed right to me that those who don’t work and have no income are in some respects better off than those who do work, but earn low wages. Expanding Medicaid will allow these individuals and their families to receive health care at no additional cost to Mississippi taxpayers. Maybe the governor has another plan for the working poor, but it’s hard to know if we can’t have a debate.
In recent days, other states have received approval for different ways to use these additional federal dollars. Florida plans to expand managed care. Arkansas plans to subsidize private insurance. We need to study these ideas and see which ones make sense for Mississippi.
In Sunday’s column, Gov. Bryant tried to make this a partisan issue. That’s unfortunate. Most Democrats and most Republicans in the legislature are struggling to get the right answer. We can deal with politics at the next election. Right now, let’s just try to govern.
SEN. HOB Bryan of Amory represents Monroe County and parts of Itawamba and Lee. Last term he was appointed by then Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant to chair the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. He is currently chair of the Medicaid subcommittee of that committee. In 2009 he was instrumental in reaching a compromise on Medicaid funding, a matter which threatened to leave the state without a budget. He generally supported the position of Gov. Haley Barbour, which left him at odds with most Democrats in the Legislature. He may be reached at Post Office Box 75, Amory, Mississippi 38821, or at (601) 359-3540 during the legislative session.