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Medicare expansion advances in Jackson


Medicare expansion advances in Jackson
Mississippi House Speaker wrote Medicaid expansion bill.

   Mississippi legislators may be on the cusp of expanding Medicaid to encompass low income workers after more than a decade of blocking it.


Late last month, the House passed legislation enabling the expansion 98-20 and advanced it to the Senate, which seems House-Speaker-Jason-White_courtes-MS-House-of-Rep-jpg.web poised to pass similar legislation in the coming weeks.


Governor Tate has consistently opposed Medicaid expansion as “welfare” and “Obamacare,” but the Mississippi legislative bodies could well deliver it to him veto-proof when a final version has been passed by the House and Senate.


House Medicaid Chair Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, explained the policy as a “moral imperative” and said it “should transcend politics.” She also said that lawmakers have yet to propose a viable alternative to expansion to deal with Mississippi’s lack of health care access and poor health outcomes and that “‘No’ is not a policy that has helped.”


Authored by new House Speaker Jason White, R-West, and McGee, the bill would expand Medicaid eligibility to 138% of the federal poverty level or about $20,000 annually for an individual. The bill contains a work requirement for recipients of Medicaid expansion, but states that the expansion would go into effect even if the federal government does not approve the work requirement.


“Finding affordable access to health care is not only compassionate, but it is a smart investment in our workforce,” White said in a press conference after the floor vote. “As this bill is transmitted to the Senate for their consideration, I want to acknowledge that they, too, are drafting legislation that will provide health care accessibility options.  Today we have sent them a conservative plan that addresses our shared goal to provide health care coverage for hardworking, low-income Mississippians.”


White expressed optimism the governor would sign the bill, saying he believed Reeves recognizes the importance of expanding health care access.


“A healthy workforce projects to a healthy economy,” White said. “I’m not anticipating a veto at this point. I’m anticipating a business-minded, reasonable governor who weighs all options and all things and I think he is just that.”


McGee in the press conference said: “Moving beyond a decade of simply saying ‘no’ to finding a workable solution to health access takes effort.  But it’s a task I believe lawmakers from both parties in both chambers are up for.  Most importantly, I’m excited about the hundreds of thousands of working Mississippians that now, and in the future could have a way toward a better, healthier quality of life.”


The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost for those covered by Medicaid expansion. Various studies have concluded Medicaid expansion in Mississippi would be a boon for the state economy and provide health care coverage for about 200,000 Mississippians -- primarily the working poor. For the first four years, there is projected to be no cost to the state because of $600 million in additional federal funds, offered as an incentive to expand Medicaid.


The bill also has a built-in repealer, meaning the program would automatically end after four years unless the Legislature chooses to renew it.  This likely made it more palatable to Republicans on the fence. 


McGee called it a “free pilot program” during a committee meeting and said “if it doesn’t work out, if we decide that our health outcomes have not improved, if it costs too much for the state, if for any reason we do not believe that it is doing the things that we want it to do, the program will simply repeal in 2029.”


Unlike the proposal Senate leaders say they are crafting, the House bill would not make expansion contingent on the Biden administration approving the work requirement. That’s important, since during the Biden administration CMS has rescinded work requirement waivers previously granted under the Trump administration, and has not approved new ones. 

Speaker White acknowledged his House colleagues for the overwhelming vote, his Republican colleagues for “strong support on an issue we have neglected for so long,” and the Senate for also drafting expansion legislation. 

“In most uncomfortable times is where we make our best marks,” White said.


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