March 11, 2013 10:05:51 AM
JACKSON -- Hospital administrators are pressuring Mississippi lawmakers to expand Medicaid, an option under President Barack Obama's health care law that state Republicans have so far resisted pursuing.
Some CEOs say they might be forced to lay off employees if, as expected, their facilities lose millions of federal dollars they've been receiving to treat uninsured patients. Expanding Medicaid could help fill hospitals' financial gap by covering an estimated 300,000 people, mostly low-wage workers with no private health coverage.
"It's ludicrous for the poorest state in the country ... not to do expansion," said Evan Dillard, CEO of Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg. Mississippi has some of the nation's highest rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity -- conditions that can become increasingly expensive if left untreated for long periods.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant opposes putting more people on Medicaid. About 640,000 of the state's roughly 3 million residents already are covered by the federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled.
Bryant says Mississippi can't afford it, though the federal law specifies that from 2014 to 2017 the federal government would pay 100 percent of medical costs for people qualifying under new standards. During the three years after that, the federal share progressively drops to 90 percent. The remaining cost must be covered by participating states.
"I don't trust the federal government to pay 100 percent of Medicaid for the next three years," Bryant said.
Republican governors were largely unified in criticism of the health care law last year. But half a dozen governors have since said they back accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid. They include Florida's Rick Scott, Ohio's John Kasich and New Jersey's Chris Christie.
Bryant, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Rick Perry of Texas are among the Republican governors still opposing Medicaid expansion.
The law originally made Medicaid expansion mandatory. When a divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the law last summer, it said states would have an option -- not a mandate -- to extend Medicaid to people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That's an annual income of about $15,000. Mississippi's current income cutoff for Medicaid is about $5,500.
Many Democratic lawmakers are pushing for expansion.
"It is the most important issue to us in a generation," said Rep. Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto, the House Democratic leader.