A Political Brawl Over Medicaid Could Leave Mississippi’s Poor Without Any Health Coverage At All

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Mississippi lawmakers are at such a political impasse over Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion that they may fail to reauthorize the main program itself, let alone expand it to cover more low-income Americans. That would leave close to 700,000 poor Mississippians without basic health coverage for doctor’s visits, checkups, or prescription drugs for chronic diseases like diabetes.

Mississippi Democrats have demanded a vote on Medicaid expansion. But their efforts have been rebuffed by the Republican majority, which prefers to stop at just reauthorizing the current Medicaid program, Politico reports. Even though Democrats have promised to work with Republicans on re-authorization once an expansion vote is scheduled — irrespective of how that vote turns out — lawmakers are in such disagreement over how to proceed that they finished the current legislative session without reauthorizing Medicaid. Now, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) must call a special session of the legislature to bridge the political chasm and authorize Mississippi’s Medicaid program before a July 1 deadline.

If lawmakers fail in that effort — a very real possibility — the consequences would be devastating for Mississippi’s poor and sick residents, hospitals, and nursing homes alike. Poor people with chronic or special health care needs would lose their benefits, and hospitals that serve mostly low-income patients would have to absorb the full cost of the care they provide without being reimbursed.

Mississippians tend to need the coverage they may be losing. The United Health Foundation has consistently ranked Mississippi as the least healthiest state in the United States, with high rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and preventable cancers like colon cancer and breast cancer. The Magnolia State also has the highest poverty rate and the lowest income of any state.

A Bryant spokeswoman told Politico that the governor wouldn’t allow the program to lapse, regardless of what the legislature does. Some lawmakers question Bryant’s authority to make such a move by fiat, but it would likely come as welcome news to health care professionals and poor residents who need to pursue treatment.

Bryant could have avoided this entire situation if he had just agreed to expand Medicaid in the first place. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that Medicaid expansion would cut Mississippi’s uninsurance rate by over 58 percent.