February 21, 2014 11:25:07 AM
JACKSON -- The Mississippi House voted Thursday against expanding Medicaid to more than 230,000 uninsured working poor residents.
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, pushed for expansion as the House considered House Bill 1481, an early version of the Medicaid budget for the year that begins July 1.
Brown pointed out that most lawmakers receive taxpayer-funded health insurance for their part-time jobs. He told his colleagues that when they go back to their districts, they should talk to barbers, waitresses, convenience store clerks and roofers and ask if they're insured. He said the workers probably don't have employer-sponsored health coverage.
"Ask the mechanic working on your car, 'Do you have health insurance? What do you do when you're sick?'" Brown said.
Medicaid is a government insurance program for the needy, aged, blind and disabled, and it's paid by federal and state dollars.
Under the health overhaul President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010, states may provide Medicaid to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000 a year for one person. In Mississippi now, the income cutoff is about $5,500 for one person, and many able-bodied adults are not eligible for Medicaid coverage, regardless of how little they earn.
Mississippi is among about two dozen states, led by Republican governors, that have rejected the expansion so far.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and other opponents of Medicaid expansion say the state can't afford it, even with the federal government paying most of the cost.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, opposed Brown's amendment but thanked him for offering it. Frierson noted that many conservative Mississippi residents are against putting more people on a government health program.
"The district I have, it gives me an opportunity to get a vote in against expansion," Frierson said.
Brown's proposal failed with 64 votes against and 52 for. The vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans opposing it and most Democrats supporting it.
Advocates for the working poor say expanding Mississippi's Medicaid program could bring billions of federal dollars to one of the poorest states in the nation, making health care more readily available and supporting jobs in hospitals and clinics.
About 644,000 of the Mississippi's nearly 3 million residents are already enrolled in Medicaid.
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