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Quotes: Republicans debating Medicaid expansion share thoughts on key meeting day

House Republican leaders offered a compromise Medicaid expansion plan to Senate leaders in a much-anticipated conference committee meeting on Tuesday.

Earlier this session, House leaders passed a full Medicaid expansion plan that would draw down roughly $1 billion a year in federal money, plus another $650 million over the first two years, and provide health insurance coverage to more than 200,000 Mississippians.

A month later, however, the Senate passed its own plan that would forgo the extra federal money and insure about 74,000. Senate leaders said they fear a more generous plan would cause people to drop private insurance or quit working.

In a conference meeting Tuesday, three Senate leaders and three House leaders — all Republicans — met to seek compromise. House Medicaid Chairwoman Missy McGee offered a compromise “hybrid” proposal that would expand Medicaid coverage but keep thousands of people on a private insurance exchange as some other states have done.

The Senate conferees offered no compromise from their side, and offered a cool response to the House proposal, but said they would take it back to their fellow Senate Republicans. Both sides said they will meet up again, but did not set a firm time or date of a follow up meeting.

Below are some key points the Republican conferees made during the meeting and in later interviews with Mississippi Today.

Rep. Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg

As the meeting ended, Senate conferees said they would take the House’s proposed compromise back to Lt. Gov. Hosemann and other Senate leadership. They urged McGee to also go back and talk with the House speaker and leadership.

“But if your position has not changed, or you haven’t offered anything, then I don’t have anything to take back,” McGee responded.

McGee said that while the House is open to negotiation, it likely won’t agree to any plan that turns down billions of federal dollars earmarked for expansion.

“We just cannot make that make sense,” McGee said. “… (The Senate plan) would be leaving a lot of money on the table and leave a lot of Mississippians uninsured … We talk about running things like a business. If someone’s offering to give you 90 cents for every 10 cents you put up, I don’t know of any business that wouldn’t take that.”

Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven

“Despite our different opinions, we have begun a dialogue that has not occurred in this building,” Blackwell said. “… Despite it taking so long to get here, it is moving in the right direction and I for one hope it continues.”

“The reality is the Senate is not going to accept your position,” he said. “We have an easier position. I know it is not what you prefer, but we are moving. If this dies, it is going to be hard next year to get here and damn sure it is not getting brought up in the next two years.”

Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford

Boyd, had a cold response to the House’s compromise plan, but she said she was open to studying the proposal if House leaders can produce numbers that show it would not be a net cost to the state to implement.

The Lafayette County lawmaker said the Senate leadership initially considered proposing a hybrid plan, but it decided against that model because it determined a hybrid would be more costly than what the Senate eventually passed.

“I want to see different numbers,” Boyd told reporters. “Look, we are incredibly open to looking at everything and making sure that we get the best plan for the state of Mississippi and for the taxpayers of Mississippi. Just the numbers that we have right now haven’t shown (a Hybrid model) to be a financially feasible option. But we are absolutely open to looking at those if we can get numbers to show us that’s what the case is.”

Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula

Wiggins, a former Medicaid Committee chairman, had a more realistic response to the hybrid plan offered by the House, but he still believed the Senate’s initial plan was the better proposal to ensure the federal Medicaid exchange remains intact.

The coastal lawmaker said he is personally open to a hybrid model, but he does not want to publicly back the compromise plan unless it has a two-thirds majority support of the senators needed to override a potential veto.

“Everybody wants to make Medicaid expansion kind of a black-and-white issue,” Wiggins said. “The reality is it’s a very, very gray issue about what the policy is. That’s why I’m saying, yes, I think if a hybrid plan is there, and it’s beneficial to all the citizens of Mississippi under the parameters that we’ve set out in the Senate, then, yes, I’m open to doing that. At this particular time, I personally am not shutting off those discussions. With that being said, as conferees, we have a duty to our Senate chamber. And I think when people hear what we’ve been talking about, I think they’re going to understand that there’s more to it than black and white, and they want us to get to a solution.” 

Reps. Sam Creekmore, R-New Albany, and Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, said little during the meeting as McGee took the House lead. They regularly nodded along as McGee spoke.

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