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Senate negotiators a no-show for second meeting with House on Medicaid expansion 

Senate leaders did not attend a second conference committee meeting with their House counterparts on Thursday to try and compromise on a final bill to expand Medicaid coverage to poor Mississippians. 

House Medicaid Chairwoman Missy McGee, a Republican from Hattiesburg, said she was disappointed the three Senate negotiators didn’t attend the meeting because she expected to hear an update on where the chamber stood on reaching a compromise.

“Those of you who are looking for information, so are we,” McGee said. “Just know the House stands ready to negotiate this very important issue. We are here at the Capitol, and we’re hoping that we’ll be able to have some conversations later today and later and in the final days of the session. Thank you for coming and sorry to have wasted your time.” 

Senate Medicaid Chairman Kevin Blackwell, a Republican from Southaven who is one of the Senate negotiators, did not answer questions from reporters about the conference committee as he walked out of a separate Senate committee meeting. But he said the Senate was “working on a compromise.” 

After the meeting, McGee told reporters she notified Blackwell on Wednesday that she was scheduling the second conference meeting for Thursday, but she was not sure if the senators would attend or not. 

“I was hoping we were able to meet again, even if it was briefly,” McGee said. “I didn’t hear anything from the Senate yesterday, so I was hoping we would be able to discuss today.” 

The House and Senate are in negotiations on a final expansion bill because the two chambers earlier in the session passed vastly different proposals. 

The House’s initial plan aimed 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, wanted 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. 

The negotiators met publicly for the first time on Tuesday, but the six lawmakers remained far apart from a final deal. 

The Senate simply asked the House to agree to its initial plan. But the House offered a compromise “hybrid” model that uses public and private insurance options to implement expansion. The Senate negotiators on Tuesday were mostly noncommittal on the hybrid compromise.

House leaders, such as Republican Rep. Sam Creekmore IV of New Albany, have said they are willing to compromise on a final plan with the Senate, but they want an agreement that covers people up to 138% of the federal poverty level to receive the full 90% matching rate from the federal government.

“Here we are with a chance to receive 90 cents on the dollar if we give 10 cents, and that’s it,” Creekmore said. “I don’t know of a business who would not take that. Yet we’re going to turn that down? On the House side, we’re not willing to turn that down.” 

Lawmakers face a Monday deadline to file an initial compromise plan on Medicaid expansion, though that deadline could be suspended if two-thirds of the legislators in both chambers agree to suspend the deadline. 

House Speaker Jason White, a Republican from West, told reporters he wished the Senate negotiators would have attended the Thursday meeting, but he’s still optimistic the two chambers can agree on a final deal.

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