OUR OPINION: Medicaid expansion merits debate, vote

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s Medicaid program died Monday – at least temporarily – in the House when Democrats who favor expanding the program, especially for our state’s largely uninsured working poor, held the line against Republicans, who in the main oppose expanding it on ideological grounds.
The program which serves 640,000 children, pregnant women, aged, blind and disabled continues until June 30, the end of the fiscal year, but it can be resurrected in a special session or by a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules in the current session, an unlikely scenario.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant immediately issued a press release blasting the Democrats.
“Democrats are playing a political game with the lives of the 641,194 children, pregnant women, and aged, blind, and disabled adults currently receiving medical services through Medicaid,” Bryant said.
As a matter of fact, the Republicans are also playing a political game, linking Medicaid expansion to what Bryant says is posturing to “expand Obamacare over funding services” for Mississippi Medicaid recipients.
The issue is not Obamacare (the federal Affordable Care Act) but providing health insurance coverage for a maximum number of eligible Mississippians – an additional 300,000 by most calculations.
The additional coverage is possible because the federal health care act increases the income eligibility for Medicaid to include large numbers of working people who are too poor to afford health insurance and whose jobs don’t provide it.
Concern about not expanding Medicaid extends to the Mississippi Hospital Association, many physicians and a host of non-profits, including the major organizations seeking cures for cancer, heart disease and other major disease groups.
Concerns include the survival of some hospitals and the soaring cost of uncompensated care, which shifts to people with insurance, to hospitals and to the taxpayers.
In fact, eight Republican governors have announced they will help lead their states into expanded Medicaid coverage. The federal government will pay the full cost for three years, then states gradually will assume 10 percent of the cost.
Some governors are undecided and have said their Legislatures should decide.
That’s a fair proposition, and one Bryant should follow. Let the Legislature fully debate and vote on Medicaid expansion.
If the proposition loses, then backers of expansion should join forces with opponents and reconstitute the Medicaid program as it exists now, providing services for 640,000 Mississippians.
It’s only fair that an issue of such importance should be decided after full debate and information from all sides, not just by the decree of a few elected officials.