February 7, 2018 10:49:17 AM
JACKSON -- A proposal to keep Mississippi's Medicaid program alive is moving ahead in the Legislature, but some Democrats are concerned that the Republican administration could try to deeply cut costs.
Senators voted 31-16 Tuesday for Senate Bill 2836, with most Republicans supporting it and most Democrats opposing it.
The bill now goes to the House for more work. Senate Medicaid Committee Chairman Brice Wiggins said he expects the House and Senate to negotiate a final version of the bill in late March, at the end of the three-month legislative session.
Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory said Mississippi has passed up billions of federal dollars by not expanding Medicaid to the working poor. Expansion is an option under the health law signed by then-President Barack Obama in 2010. Mississippi is one of 18 states that have not expanded Medicaid.
Medicaid is a government insurance program for the needy, and it is paid with federal and state money. It covers about 750,000 of Mississippi's nearly 3 million residents -- roughly one out of four people. Bryan said many nursing homes and small-town physicians would struggle without the money the program brings them.
"It helps everybody to have a Medicaid program," Bryan said.
Mississippi Medicaid comes up for legislative review every few years. The bill that advanced Tuesday would keep it alive beyond the current state budget year, which ends June 30.
Wiggins, a Republican from Pascagoula, said the bill includes proposals to study the efficiency of Medicaid managed care programs and to examine the level of payments being made to providers.
"It's about improving health outcomes and controlling the ever-escalating costs," he said.
However, Democratic Sen. Barbara Blackmon of Canton was skeptical.
"We are going to gut Medicaid, saying that we are increasing efficiencies," Blackmon said. "But, what we are doing -- we are killing our rural communities."
Because Mississippi is a poor state, it receives one of the most generous shares of federal money to pay for Medicaid. For every $1 Mississippi spends on the program, the federal government chips in about $3. The federal share would have been larger for people added under Medicaid expansion. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said repeatedly that he does not want to increase people's dependence on government programs.
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