Mississippi lawmakers save Medicaid, but GOP blocks expansion

Rep. John Hines, Sr., D-Greenville, waves a map showing counties that are not part of the federal health insurance exchange as he calls on lawmakers to make...
Rep. John Hines, Sr., D-Greenville, waves a map showing counties that are not part of the federal health insurance exchange as he calls on lawmakers to make...
Rogelio V. Solis/AP

It’s been exactly one year since the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act was the law of the land, but Republicans continue to reject it.

Friday that rejection came in Mississippi where the majority of Senate Republicans, under the leadership of their Governor Phil Bryant, rejected a Medicaid expansion plan that was expected to insure an additional 300,000 people in the state, the day after House Republicans rejected a similar plan.

But lawmakers came within just days of failing to re-up on the existing Medicaid plan that covers nearly 700,000 of the state’s neediest residents. The votes to save Medicaid at all came just a few days before the program was set to expire, after Bryant called for a special legislative session that began Thursday to deal with the impending crisis. Democrats forcefully pushed an alternative expansion plan, refusing to provide the votes they controlled–necessary because Medicaid could not be reauthorized without a super majority–unless Republicans would at least hold a vote on their plan.

Democrats praised the alternative plan, similar to one accepted by the Republican-controlled statehouse in neighboring Arkansas, as a compromise, but neither the protesters outside nor the passionate speeches from Democrats were enough to persuade their colleagues across the aisle.

On Thursday, State Rep. Adrienne Wooten broke into tears as she remembered how her own mother, a single mom, struggled to provide for her and her siblings, and always worked hardest to make sure they had health insurance. “You are a representative–the word speaks for itself–represent your constituents,” she said to her colleagues. But her pleas went unheeded.

Republicans, for the most part, justified their opposition on the grounds of fiscal restraint, many insisting they had compassion for the poor but that it was a bad idea to spend more state money or take federal money. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates the expansion program would cost Mississippi taxpayers only 7.6% in additional spending.

Other Republicans complained that they still lacked the information to convince them that the expanded program would be successful. State Sen. Terry Brown of Columbus took the hardline approach to the legislation, saying Obamacare would be a disaster. “Let’s don’t be part of the train wreck,” he said.

The debate grew contentious at times, with one Democrat, Sen. John Horhn of Jackson, said that hearing so many of his colleagues talk about their compassionate for the poor was like listening to “Byron De La Beckwith recite ‘I have a dream.’” (De La Beckwith is the white supremacist who shot and killed Medgar Evers 50 years ago this month.)

Only one Republican in the Senate voiced support for Medicaid expansion, but even he hedged. Senator Billy Hudson of Hattiesburg said, “I will vote to expand Medicaid, but not today.”

As of Friday afternoon, Medicaid is not formally reauthorized, still requiring one final technical vote, but is expected to be after Governor Bryant takes the final necessary steps.

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