JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) - To expand or not to expand Medicaid, that's the dilemma facing the state of Mississippi. But before they deal with that, how about some legislation to reauthorize the Mississippi Department of Medicaid so that it can exist past June 30.
But realistically, Medicaid will exist beyond that date and 640,000 Mississippians won't be without healthcare coverage. Governor Bryant says he can run the department without the need for a special session.
Two other governors, Haley Barbour and Kirk Fordice, have tried to run executive branch departments in similar situations. In 1994, the legislature refused to reauthorize the Department of Human Services in a dispute with the Governor Fordice over privatizing the child support collections.
Fordice decided to run the department himself and did for a time before the dispute was settled.
In 2004, Governor Barbour ran DHS under executive order for a short time. Attorney General Jim Hood also was able to get a court order chancery court allowing that arrangement.
Unless Governor Bryant has a change of heart, he appears ready to take on the job of running the Department of Medicaid himself.
"We are researching the law and hope legal action is not necessary," said Hood about the governor's plans.
Then there's the question of expansion. Governor Bryant is against it, the Mississippi Hospital Association is for it or some type of compromise, and many legislators just want to vote on it.
State Representative Bobby Moak says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has confirmed that health funds will be cut to states that don't expand Medicaid.
Moak says all Democrats want is a vote on Medicaid expansion.
"Lets have a vote on expansion," said Moak. "Allow us the opportunity to express our vote to protect our hospitals throughout this state. Now, they like to say look you Democrats don't have enough votes to pass the expansion measure. Well, to that I say tell me what the vote number is. Look into your crystal ball because I don't know what it is. Put it out there on the floor, lets have a vote, and if we lose we'll vote to reauthorize Medicaid."
Healthcare providers and advocacy groups continue to call for expansion or find a viable compromise.
Forrest General Hospital CEO Evan Dillard says if a consensus isn't reached, the hospital will be forced to cut $9 million from its budget, affecting staff and services.
"Expansion is just one option to solve the problem," said Dillard. "There is other ways, there are other options, other states have found solutions that don't involve straight medicaid expansion. What we are looking for as I've said for the last several months is a solution that both sides of the aisle can agree on, legislative branch, executive branch and move forward."
We still have a little more than a month before the June 30 deadline, and a lot can happen in that time. But the ball is in the Governor's court. If he doesn't call a special session before then, we move into unchartered waters.