Medicaid hardball in Mississippi

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R)
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R)
Associated Press

When we last checked in with Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R), he was offering some strange and inaccurate reasons to turn down Medicaid expansion in his state, where it’s badly needed. The Republican governor, ignoring his own insurance commissioner from his own party, wouldn’t budge.

What about Mississippi’s rate of uninsured, one of the worst in the nation? According to Bryant, they should just rely on the most inefficient system of socialized medicine possible: emergency-room care.

Over the weekend, Democrats in Mississippi’s legislature, unsatisfied with the governor’s intransigence, decided to play a little hardball (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the tip).

House Democrats on Sunday night blocked passage of the $840 million Medicaid budget, a move to try to force a vote on expanding the program and to block Gov. Phil Bryant from running it by executive order.

“The federal government is offering venture capital to expand the largest industry we’ve got in this state, and we can’t even get a vote and debate on it,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. “So we’re doing what we have to do. We are going to have an up-or-down vote on Medicaid expansion – it may be in a special session – or we are not going to have Medicaid.”

It’s a gutsy move. Remember, the way Medicaid works is that it’s a federal-state partnership, with both sides making an investment. Mississippi Democrats are blocking the state from participating in Medicaid altogether unless they’re given a chance to fight for Medicaid expansion.

Remember, as a substantive matter, there’s no doubt the Medicaid portions of the Affordable Care Act are an excellent deal for a state like Mississippi. It’s why the state’s Republican insurance commissioner, the Mississippi Hospital Association, AARP Mississippi, and state budget experts all want Bryant and the GOP to put partisan considerations aside and do the right thing.

The governor doesn’t want to, so Democrats are exploring alternatives to force his hand. It’s a story worth watching.