Speaker Jason White on Friday appointed new people to lead the two House committees with jurisdiction over health policy, signaling a desire to shift the focus of health care debate in a state plagued by dire health outcomes.
“The selections for chairs and vice chairs directly reflect our desire and drive to elevate Mississippi,” White said in a statement. “I am enthusiastic to work with these Republican, Democrat, and independent chairs and vice chairs as we address our state’s challenges and opportunities through a conservative lens to build a better, brighter Mississippi.”
The new speaker appointed Sam Creekmore IV, a Republican from New Albany, to chair the Public Health and Human Services Committee and Missy McGee, a Republican of Hattiesburg, to chair the Medicaid Committee, a notable shift from more conservative respective chairs of the previous four-year term.
Both Creekmore and McGee come from the more moderate wing of the state GOP and have been involved in previous efforts to reform aspects of health care. Both have told Mississippi Today they support Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Creekmore, only a second-term lawmaker, successfully passed legislation last year to provide more mental health services while McGee, a third-term legislator, has been a vocal advocate for increasing postpartum Medicaid benefits for new mothers.
“I was very much surprised,” Creekmore told Mississippi Today of the committee chair assignment. “I was thinking that if I got a chair it would not be Public Health, though that would have been my first choice. I have been passionate about it. I did not ask for it. I wasn’t expecting anything major like Public Health.”
When asked about possible priorities as chair of Public Health, Creekmore said he wanted to put Medicaid expansion “on the table.”
“Let’s have a conversation,” he said. “I know that is what the speaker wants to do, too. We have not discussed it other than just in passing. But whatever we do has to be what is best for the hospitals, the people and the state.”
White had said earlier he wanted to conduct a serious study of expanding Medicaid to provide health care for primarily to working poor as 40 other states have done. In the past, the Republican leadership of the Legislature has refused to even consider Medicaid expansion, which is still opposed by Gov. Tate Reeves.
White also appointed four Democrats to chair less visible committees. During the past term, then-Speaker Philip Gunn, who chose not to run for reelection, did not appoint any Democrats as committee chairs. The four Democratic chairs are Carl Mickens over Housing; Cedric Burnett over Interstate Cooperation; Karl Gibbs on State Library and Otis Anthony over Youth and Family Affairs.
Even though there were four Democrats selected as chairs and 21 as vice chairs, Robert Johnson III of Natchez, the House Democratic leader, said there were few Democrats placed in positions to have major impacts.
“I was hoping for more given the statements the speaker had made,” Johnson said. He added he is still hopeful of cooperation given the conversations he has had with White and new House Pro-Tem Manly Barton.
Johnson also praised White’s appointments of Creekmore as Public Health chair and McGee as Medicaid chair.
While Johnson said he would liked to have seen a Democrat in one of those posts, both Creekmore and McGee have “shown the willingness to work across the aisle to do what is best for the state. I am encouraged by their appointments.”
White opted to keep Republican John Read of Gautier as Appropriations Committee chair and Republican Trey Lamar of Senatobia as Ways and Means chair, the two committees responsible for tax policy and crafting the state budget.
The speaker appointed only four Democrats to lead committees, but those committees, in reality, are not powerful and a majority of Republicans will still make up the majority of the members on those committees.
The speaker will soon begin referring bills to committees for consideration. The deadline for leaders to pass bills out of their committees is March 5.
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