Gov. Phil Bryant has said repeatedly during the past year that Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation, can't afford to add up to 300,000 people to the more than 640,000 who are already on the federal-state health insurance program for the needy. The state has about 3 million residents.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, is a former chairman of the House Public Health Committee. He said expanding Medicaid would provide coverage for people who work hard but can't afford insurance. He also said expansion would support thousands of health care jobs.
"I think you're a fool to turn your back on the working poor," Holland said in a hand-written note he was delivering to the governor Monday. "Plus, you're a hypocrite to promote medical economic development and not have this means to pay for it. This is simple minded on your part."
Holland was using "means" as a synonym for "way," which is typical in legislative language.
Holland closed the note by saying to Bryant: "Get a life." Holland's signature included a smiley face, which he often uses on official documents, but he said the criticism is serious.
Under a federal health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010, states have the option of expanding Medicaid to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000 for an individual. Mississippi's current cutoff is about $5,500, and the state's program doesn't cover many able-bodied adults.
In a recent letter to Holland and other lawmakers, Bryant wrote: "Even a cursory glance at the state's budget will reveal that Mississippi simply does not have the resources for such expenditures. So, which government functions are you willing to cut and what taxes are you willing to levy upon your district to pay for a new entitlement?"
In response to Holland's note, Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock told The Associated Press: "Unfortunately Rep. Holland fails to tell the whole story that any expansion of Medicaid would impose enormous costs that would result in tax increases for hardworking Mississippians or cuts to critical spending in areas like education, public safety and economic development.
"Furthermore, Gov. Bryant is working to grow Mississippi's private-sector health care opportunities — something that will sustainably boost the state's economy and benefit Mississippians as a whole," Bullock wrote.
The 2010 law says the federal government would pay 100 percent of medical expenses for the newly qualified enrollees from 2014 to 2017. The federal share would be reduced to 90 percent by 2020, with each state paying the balance.
Bryant, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Rick Perry of Texas are among the Republican governors opposing Medicaid expansion.
Republican Govs. Rick Scott of Florida, Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio say they favor expansion in their states.
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus