OUR OPINION: Medicaid expansion could help workers

By NEMS Daily Journal

The decision by the Mississippi House Medicaid Committee chairman to schedule a public hearing on possible Medicaid expansion opens the door to fair and full discussion of a health-care and quality of life issue affecting potentially an additional 300,000 Mississippians – many of them the “working poor” who earn an income but cannot afford health insurance.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, moving toward full implementation in 2014, allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level: $15,000 for a single person and $34,000 for a family of four.
Mississippi legislative and statewide elected officials who are Republicans have mostly strongly opposed exercising that option on grounds the state cannot afford, after three years, to pay 10 percent of the cost.
Some holding that position reflect political ideology reflexively against the ACA because it is the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s policy accomplishments, widely opposed in GOP circles everywhere.
On the other hand, refusing to consider expansion that would cover substantial numbers of the working poor also assures that the burden for health care continues to fall on institutions and the private sector to which the uninsured usually go: clinics and hospitals bound by ethics and the law to accept them as patients regardless of insurance reimbursement.
We applaud House Medicaid Committee Chairman Bobby Howell, R-Kilmichael, for agreeing to schedule a hearing, and we suggest that a one-day session won’t be enough to hear from the key constituents and those who represent those interests.
Holding the hearing becomes doubly important because the Mississippi Division of Medicaid has not been reauthorized in the 2013 session. If not renewed in subsequent legislative action, the program would be run under executive powers by Gov. Phil Bryant. Bryant is a staunch opponent of Medicaid expansion.
As Howell noted, issues are evolving with movement toward full implementation of the Affordable Care Act., and we believe Mississippi’s best official position is to keep an open mind as a matter of best policy – rather than partisan politics.
A Koscuisko physician, Tim Alford, testified last week that helping the working poor in Mississippi obtain health insurance coverage through Medicaid is in the patients’ and the state’s best interests.
Alford noted that the “working poor” includes jobs like clerks, retail cashiers, truck drivers, pulpwood haulers and nurses’ assistants, to which could be added many others like household employees and thousands of people with part-time jobs who are not covered under any business’s full-time insurance plans.
Seriously examining Medicaid expansion for the working poor acknowledges that for many people who work hard and want always to work, the world is imperfect and the reality affords less than the ideal situation for full self-sufficiency.