OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - State lawmakers are finally going to sit down to discuss Medicaid expansion. The House Medicaid committee will hold a hearing Monday afternoon on the issue. Right now elected officials are sharply divided over whether Mississippi should opt into a federal program that would widen eligibility requirements. In the meantime, a health advocacy group in favor of expansion is traveling the state talking to people.
Supporters of Medicaid expansion say too many Mississippians can't afford to go to the doctor's office when they get sick. They said by expanding eligibility, 300,000 additional people will have health coverage.
"There is a perception among some folks that it's just a bunch of poor people who don't work, and they're already getting a free ride an we're just going to put more of them into the system. That's not true," said Rep. David Baria, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis. "The 300,000 people that we're talking about will be the working poor. These are people who work for a living but they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid currently but they don't make enough to afford a Cadillac health policy."
The Mississippi Health Advocacy Program is trying to get the word out about the 9,000 jobs that an Institutions of Higher Learning study determined a Medicaid expansion would create. The group is also telling people about how Medicaid Disproportionate Hospital Share payments, which currently helps offset expenses hospitals incur to treat the uninsured, is about to be slashed.
Corey Wiggins is part of the Mississippi Road to Reform Program. "Regardless if the state expands Medicaid or not the state will see a reduction in DSH payments which are Disproportionate Hospital Payments."
"So what you have are hospitals that will see a reduction in the dollars that they get to provide care for people without health insurance," Wiggins said. "Then you'll have people without health insurance still coming to them. So this puts hospitals in a really big quandary of trying to figure out how do we continue provide services to the best our abilities while we're losing a source of revenue."
Expansion supporters know they face strong opposition from Governor Phil Bryant.
Rep Baria said "He's so far out on a limb at this point opposing everything that comes out of Washington and Obamacare in particular that he's going to have a hard time backing off of his opposition to this. But I think the ice is cracking and he's looking for a way out of this box."
The House Medicaid Committee hearing is Monday at 1 PM in Jackson.