White House hands Democratic candidates in Mississippi more ammo about Medicaid

The White House just handed Mississippi Democratic candidates for governor a lot of ammo in the challenge to Gov. Phil Bryant.

Bryant refused to accept the Medicaid expansion and successfully fought off an attempt by Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney to establish a state-run health insurance exchange. Both are part of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers estimated that Medicaid expansion would have covered an additional 139,000 peole, and would have added billions to the state's economy and would have raised the standard of living  by "reducing the burden of uncompensated care for providers, taxpayers, and the privately insured."

Democrat Vicki Slater, who announced her challenge to Bryant in February, has made Medicaid expansion one of the centerpieces of her campaign. She calls the failure to expand one of Bryant's many failures.

Slater, who has primary opponents in Robert Gray and Valerie Short, said expanding Medicaid is one of the first things she would do if elected. Short, an OB-GYN from Ridgeland, also said she would expand Medicaid. About all I know about Gray is he's a retired firefighter.

If the state does not expand Medicaid next year, it would miss out on $1.38 billion in federal funding that year alone, the advisers' report said.

The report, which you can read here, also said expanding Medicaid would:

  • Improve access to needed medical services, including primary and preventive care. 
  • Increase by 18,000 the number of Mississippi who report being in good health.
  • Reduce the risk of financial hardship due to sickness. 
  • Lower the amount of uncompensated care, such us unpaid hospital bills

“The administration is willing to work with any state interested in expanding Medicaid, said Vikki Wachino Acting Director, Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services. “We are committed to supporting state flexibility and working with states on innovative solutions that expand Medicaid to low-income individuals in accordance with the law’s goals and consumer protections, while securing quality, affordable health coverage and growing a state’s economy.”

Bryant hasn't been interested.

"Let me assure you, expanding the Medicaid program will have huge implications for this state’s budget, affecting you, your children and even your grandchildren," he wrote in a "guest editorial" on his website in 2011. "However, some are still insistent that we grow this enormous entitlement program. At a minimum, the decision should not be rushed."

By his state of the state this past January, he still hadn't budged:

 "I fully expect dramatic changes in the Affordable Care Act with Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress," he said. "A number of the new majority were sent to Washington promising to repeal the Affordable Care Act — an action Congress has attempted in whole or in part more than forty different times. I do believe we will see some positive changes proposed, such as portability, national tort reform and health care savings accounts. Another positive reform I am encouraging is the restoration of Medicare and Medicaid DSH payments. These payments were originally designed to defray the costs of uncompensated care."

A separate report the U.S. Department of Health and Human  says 12.2 million additional Americans nationwide, including 75,084 people in Mississippi, now have affordable health coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program in March 2015 compared to before the start of the first Marketplace open enrollment period in October 2013.  Read that report here.