Less than two weeks before the Nov. 7 statewide election, top Democratic leaders are continuing to pound the drum on Mississippi’s hospital crisis and the need for state officials to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor.
Speaking on the front steps of the state Capitol on Wednesday morning, three Democratic lawmakers sharply criticized Republican Gov. Tate Reeves for standing in the way of expansion, which experts estimate would generate billions for the state.
“He’ll tell you over and over that it’s Mississippi’s time,” House Minority Leader Robert Johnson III said. “For who, governor? Who are you talking about? You and your donors? Because I don’t think the people in my district and community will describe what they see as Mississippi momentum.”
Reeves’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but the governor has said in previous remarks that he remains opposed to expansion and derisively calls the proposal “welfare expansion.” The governor’s Democratic challenger Brandon Presley, meanwhile, has made health care one of the major themes of his campaign platform and has promised to expand Medicaid on “day one” that he’s sworn into office.
Almost half of Mississippi’s rural hospitals are at risk of closure, according to one report. Many financially struggling hospitals cite major losses on uncompensated care, or services provided to people without health insurance coverage — emergency rooms by law cannot turn patients away, regardless of their coverage status.
Mississippi’s hospitals lose about $600 million on uncompensated care annually. Hospital leaders say Medicaid expansion would greatly reduce the amount of uncompensated care they provide.
After brushing off questions for months about the severity of the hospital crisis, Reeves unveiled a proposal in September that’s supposed to pull in more federal dollars to increase Medicaid reimbursement to hospitals.
But Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, told Mississippi Today on Wednesday that Reeves’ previous effort is not sufficient in the long run, calling the effort “too late, too Tate” as a play on the governor’s first name.
“Based on my understanding of this proposal, it’s only going to be a one-time fix or not a solution to a long-term problem,” Simmons said. “And the real solution that is clear is Medicaid expansion to give hospitals the relief they need and also to help those 200,000 working Mississippians.”
For years, a cycle has repeated itself at the state Capitol: Democratic lawmakers file legislation to expand Medicaid coverage to additional Mississippians, Republican leaders kill those efforts and Democratic legislators cry foul. Across the state, voters keep reelecting the same Republicans to office who oppose Medicaid expansion.
But the trio of legislators on Wednesday said if Presley, the Democrat challenging Reeves, defeats the incumbent and flips the Governor’s Mansion, then some of the GOP holdouts might come around to the idea of expansion.
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, believes the coordinated message around expansion and the hospital crisis will be different this year and translate into actual results at the ballot box next month.
Blount used previous legislative efforts to give poor mothers additional Medicaid benefits after they give birth as an example to show how the party’s constant push for additional benefits for vulnerable Mississippians can lead to actual results.
Both chambers of the Legislature earlier this year overwhelmingly passed a proposal to extend postpartum Medicaid benefits for new mothers for up to a year after giving birth. Reeves finally signed the legislation into law after long-refusing to take a stance on the policy.
“Postpartum extension for years in the Legislature a Democratic issue and only Democrats were pushing for it,” Blount said. “This year is an election year, and this year, ordinary people … called their legislators and called their statewide officials and said you need to change your position.”
Presley and Reeves will participate in a televised debate on Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. Some voters can already cast an absentee ballot for the race, but the general election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
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