Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act has taken a number of forms. In the House of Representatives we’ve seen 37 repeal votes, and in 20 different states Republicans are blocking Medicaid expansion that could provide billions of dollars worth of care to millions of Americans who currently lack coverage.
But now a political impasse in Mississippi threatens to take away Medicaid for all of the nearly 700,000 residents currently covered by the program, including thousands of children in poor families and elderly residents who already rely upon it. State lawmakers failed to agree on a reauthorization plan during the regular legislative session, and now if Republicans Governor Phil Bryant and Democratic state lawmakers fail to find a compromise, the state’s Medicaid program would be cut off at the end of June.
Democrats and Republicans have been at odds over Medicaid expansion since the beginning of the year, with Democrats pushing for expansion that would give Medicaid coverage to an additional 300,000 people in the state who fall slightly above the poverty line. One recent compromise floated by Democrats would instead use the federal money to help individuals purchase their own plans on the state exchange – modeled after an Arkansas deal – but Governor Bryant promptly rejected the plan.
A recent survey of “deep south” states found 58% of Mississippians supported Medicaid expansion, as well as 85% of African-Americans from South Carolina to Louisiana.
“There is no economic development project that would be stronger, more substantial, and more sustained in Mississippi than to expand Medicaid to benefit the health economy and community of this state and give 300,000 citizens some kind of insurance plan. So it is mere hockey puck hypocrisy,” Democratic State Representative Steve Holland said when he unveiled the plan last week.
While Republicans control the state legislature, they lack the additional votes needed to reauthorize Medicaid. Democrats right now are insisting that Medicaid expansion, or some comparable deal, gets an up down vote, although they say they won’t ultimately block the reauthorization of Medicaid, instead working to shame Bryant and his Republicans colleagues into voting on a deal.
“[Bryant] seems to just put out these vague statements that he’s against Medicaid expansion and he don’t like the federal law, well I can’t help it whether he likes the Federal law or not, it’s the federal law,” Holland told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “It is the law of the land for time being and the governor needs to realize that.”
“Mississippi has the most to gain from Medicaid expansion. Conversely, we also have the most to lose,” Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Care Access Program, told Politico. “We’re at the bottom of all the health indicator lists. If we do not expand Medicaid, we will solidify our place at the bottom for at least a generation to come.”
A report released last month found Mississippi ranked dead last in senior health, with 1 in 5 elderly residents at risk of hunger. As of 2012 more than 50% of children in state of Mississippi received their health coverage under Medicaid.
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