June 12, 2013 9:52:53 AM
JACKSON -- State leadership committees for the Mississippi Republican and Democratic parties are staking out opposite positions on Medicaid expansion.
Resolutions adopted by the two groups in the past few days reflect what their own elected officials have been saying for months.
Democrats say they support Medicaid expansion as a way to help lower-income working people. Republicans say they oppose expansion because they don't like the federal health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010.
The parties are weighing in as deadline pressure is building: Unless something changes, Mississippi's entire Medicaid program is scheduled to go out of existence on July 1.
Because of a partisan dispute over whether to expand Medicaid, legislators ended their three-month regular session without setting a budget for the program or even authorizing it to stay in business once the new fiscal year starts on July 1.
Many lawmakers expect Republican Gov. Phil Bryant to call them into special session in late June to keep Medicaid alive. Bryant has said he thinks he can run the program without legislative approval, though some legislators say it's not possible for a governor to run an agency that hasn't been funded.
Under 2010 federal health law, states have the option of expanding Medicaid coverage to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That's an income of about $15,500 for one person. In Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation, the current income threshold is about $5,500 for one person, though many able-bodied adults still don't qualify for Medicaid even if they make less than that.
The federal government would pay most of the tab for Medicaid expansion, but Bryant has said for months that Mississippi can't afford any additional administrative expenses for the program. He also says he doesn't trust the federal government to fulfill promises of future funding, if the state agrees to add more people.
Mississippi has about 3 million residents, with about 640,000 already enrolled in Medicaid. Expansion could add roughly 300,000.
The state Democratic executive committee met Saturday and unanimously adopted a resolution that says, in part, "The party wants Grade A healthcare for all Mississippi citizens and believes that this (Medicaid) expansion will help citizens attain said quality of healthcare."
The state Republican central committee met Monday and unanimously adopted its own resolution that says, in part, "serious questions continue to be raised about the impact of the law on states, individuals, employers, healthcare stakeholders and the free-market system that supports American enterprise."
In separate phone interviews with The Associated Press on Tuesday, the state party chairmen defended the resolutions.
"This clearly demonstrates one of the key differences between the two parties," Democratic chairman Rickey Cole said.
Expanding Medicaid is "an opportunity to improve the quality of life for hundreds and thousands of Mississippians," Cole said.
Republican chairman Joe Nosef said the GOP works hard to elect its candidates and the state committee wants to support Republicans once they're in office. He said Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn and others are being prudent by opposing Medicaid expansion.
"We wanted to say that we appreciated their looking after the pocketbooks of the taxpayers," Nosef said.
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