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North Mississippi business leaders urge Legislature to pass Medicaid expansion

A group of business leaders from northeast Mississippi, one of the most conservative areas of the state, recently wrote a letter to House Speaker Jason White encouraging lawmakers to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor. 

The letter, signed by influential Itawamba County business owner and Republican donor Luke Mongtomery, thanked White for pressing forward with Medicaid expansion legislation and called it “the most important legislative issue for the 2024 session.” 

“As this bill now goes to our legislators appointed to the conference committee for consideration, I have faith that a workable solution will be developed that is agreeable among House and Senate leaders,” Montgomery wrote. “Legislation that is good for our future and for all Mississippians.”

Montgomery wrote the letter on behalf of Mississippi Hills Leadership PAC, a committee of north Mississippi business leaders who regularly donate to statewide politicians and dozens of conservative legislative candidates.

Montgomery is the current chairman of the PAC, while Dan Rollins, CEO of Tupelo-based Cadence Bank, serves as the vice vice chairman and David Rumbarger, CEO of Lee County’s Community Development Foundation, serves as its treasurer.

The PAC last year donated $50,000 to White’s campaign, $25,000 to a PAC White controls, $50,000 to Hosemann and thousands of dollars to lawmakers, according to campaign finance reports with the secretary of state’s office. 

Business and civic leaders in northeast Mississippi such as Jack Reed Sr., George McLean, Hassell Franklin and Bobby Martin, all of whom have since passed away, had a longstanding history of advocating for political causes in the region. 

But in modern times, business leaders from the area are careful to wade into political issues beyond the typical scope of local business interests.

Montgomery told Mississippi Today in a statement that the PAC’s leaders support White, a Republican from West, and Hosemann, the leader of the Senate, for realizing the importance of passing expansion legislation. 

“The Mississippi Hills Leadership PAC fully supports our House and Senate leaders as they work together to develop a responsible healthcare expansion plan that takes full advantage of available federal support for the benefit of our hospitals, our people, and our future,” Montgomery said.

The letter comes in the middle of House and Senate leaders attempting to hammer out a compromise in a conference committee to resolve the different expansion plans the chambers have proposed.  

The House’s expansion plan aims to expand health care coverage to upwards of 200,000 Mississippians, and accept $1 billion a year in federal money to cover it, as most other states have done.

The Senate, on the other hand, wants a more restrictive program, to expand Medicaid to cover around 40,000 people, turn down the federal money, and require proof that recipients are working at least 30 hours a week. 

Montgomery’s letter did not endorse a specific plan, but it did call the House’s plan, which expanded coverage to the full 138% of the federal poverty level under the Affordable Care Act, “a reasonable and responsible proposal.” 

A potential compromise is for the two chambers to agree on a  “MarketPlus Hybrid Plan,” which health policy experts with the Center for Mississippi Health Policy and the Hilltop Institute at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County estimate could save the state money in the long-term. 

Speaker White previously told Mississippi Today in an interview that he believes he can hold a bipartisan group of more than 90 House members, a veto-proof majority, together in support of a compromise expansion package. 

But the coalition of support in the 52-member Senate is more fragile. The Capitol’s upper chamber only passed its austere expansion plan by 36 votes, with only one vote to spare for the two-thirds threshold needed to override a governor’s veto. 

In addition to Hosemann, the PAC has donated money to the following senators: Kathy Chism, R-New Albany; Rita Potts Parks, R-Corinth; Daniel Sparks, R-Belmont; Chad McMahan, R-Guntown; Hob Bryan, D-Amory; Ben Suber, R-Bruce; Dean Kirby, R-Pearl; Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg and Josh Harkins, R-Flowood. 

Jack Reed Jr., the former Republican mayor of Tupelo and the CEO of Reed’s Department Store, an economic anchor of downtown Tupelo, is also expected to be at the Capitol on Tuesday morning to advocate for expansion. 

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