Mississippi, we’ve got to talk about Medicaid.
Medicaid is often thought of as health insurance for poor people. While that is generally correct, it might be more accurate to say that Mississippi’s Medicaid program is health insurance for poor In order to get onto the Medicaid rolls in Mississippi as a childless, non-disabled adult, a person pretty much has to have a child. The Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare) actually initially required states to change this policy and make Medicaid available to all people who are beneath a certain income level. This was called the Medicaid expansion. The federal government was going to cover 100% of the costs that this expansion would impose on the states for three years, then phase that percentage down to 90%. So states were going to be able to offer health care to a large number of their citizens–250,000 to 300,000 in Mississippi’s case–10% of the cost.
Alas, nothing could be that simple. When the Supreme Court made its big decision on Obamacare a couple years ago, the one major thing that they changed in the law was making this Medicaid expansion optional. States now had the choice of whether or not to expand Medicaid. So why wouldn’t a state want to expand Medicaid and save the lives and pocketbooks of thousands of people? Well…
President Obama and his Affordable Care Act have driven Republicans to new heights of obstruction. The majority of elected Republicans in Congress and in state government have been finding all kinds of new and creative way to hinder the progress of the law. The law’s “navigators” have been prohibited from carrying out some of their functions in some states (see Missouri, Florida, and Texas). Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted more than 50 times to repeal part or all of the law. And yes, Republican-led states have refused to expand Medicaid to cover their population, despite almost all of that expansion being paid for.
Mississippi is currently turning down millions of dollars in federal money by not expanding Medicaid. This refusal comes under the guise of being “financially responsible.” But let’s look at what our Mississippi Republicans have spent money on recently.
State Senator Joey Fillingane (R-Sumrall) had this to say when asked about Medicaid expansion last year. “[The cost of the expansion] is a problem because on top of funding Medicaid we’re talking about funding education, and roads and bridges, and public safety and all those issues as well without raising any taxes.” Yes, Senator Fillingane, expansion will eventually cost Mississippi between $85 and $95 million dollars each year, according to a study done by the Institutions of Higher Learning.
But in 2012, Fillingane was the champion of the reduction of a business tax that he said would eventually cost the state $126 million dollars per year, and would be offset by some vague idea of “economic growth.” No actual study was ever done on how much growth would come to the state if this tax was reduced, Republicans simply accepted on faith that it would happen. I’m not trying to single out anyone in particular here, I’m just taking this as a case study–you can find similar votes and quotes for most state Republican legislative officials. The vast, vast majority of Republicans in our state government have said that expanding Medicaid to help the poor and the sick in Mississippi is going to be “too expensive,” and then they have turned right around and voted for tax breaks and incentives and other programs that cost the state at least that much money, if not more.
Everyone has their priorities–and for many Mississippi Republicans, the poor, including the working poor, are not high on the list.