Congress poised to offer Mississippi more money to expand Medicaid

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By Bobby Harrison 

Mississippi Today

Editor’s Note: The $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan was passed by the US House of Representatives by 220 to 211 on Wednesday, March 10. President Joe Biden will sign the bill into law on Friday.

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package poised to be approved by Congress offers a sizable financial incentive for Mississippi to expand Medicaid to provide health care coverage to primarily the working poor.

Mississippi Senate Public Health Committee Chair Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said if the legislation ultimately becomes law in coming days, the package would provide Mississippi roughly $300 million a year for two years if state leaders would agree to expand Medic-aid. Bryan said he bases that number on estimates provided to him by the Mississippi Di-vision of Medicaid and other health care groups.

Mississippi is one of just 12 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid under the Afford-able Care Act.

“For a number of years, the federal government has been offering us a $1 million a day to take care of sick people,” Bryan said. “Now they are offering $1 million a day to take that other $1 million a day. You can’t make this stuff up.”

The coronavirus relief bill, based on information from the American Hospital Association, would provide the incentives to expand Medicaid for the 12 states that have not by increasing the matching dollars they receive from their federal government for their traditional Medicaid program by 5%. 

Mississippi, the poorest state in the nation, receives the highest matching rate from the federal government. The federal government normally has paid about 75% of the cost of treating Medicaid recipients in Mississippi with the state paying the rest.

In recent times, based on language in past COVID-19 relief bills that have become law, the amount of the match the federal government pays of Mississippi’s Medicaid costs has increased to 84.5%.  The federal match rate aver-ages 56.2% for all 50 states.

If the Biden legislation – the American Rescue Plan Act – ultimately passes Congress and is signed into law by Biden, that matching rate for the regular Medicaid program could increase to nearly 90% for two years for Mississippi if state leaders opted to expand Medicaid.

Thus far, Mississippi’s Republican political leaders, led by Gov. Tate Reeves, have been adamantly opposed to expanding Medicaid. They maintain the state cannot afford the costs.

Under current law, the federal government pays 90% of the costs for treating people covered under Medicaid expansion, and the state pays 10% of the costs. Estimates show that as many as 300,000 more Mississippians could be covered if Medicaid is expanded in the state. Many of those covered under the expansion would be people who work in jobs that do not provide private insurance and do not earn enough to afford to purchase private coverage.

“We must work to find ways to provide health-care for all Mississippians, especially in rural areas, but Medicaid expansion is not the answer,” Reeves has said.

When Mississippi House Medicaid Chair Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, recently was asked if Mississippi might agree to the expansion if the federal match rate for the traditional Medicaid pro-gram was increased by 5% as proposed in the legislation, he said there was no need to even consider the issue until the bill becomes law.

“It still has to pass both chambers,” Hood said.

Earlier this session, the Mississippi Senate rejected Medicaid expansion on a straight party line vote with all Republicans voting no. But during a recent appearance before the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute/Capitol Press Corps, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, indicated Medicaid expansion could be an issue studied during the summer by senators while the Legislature is not in session.

“It’s no surprise… that the delivery of health care is on my agenda for next year,” Hosemann said. “And I anticipate that we will have public hearings concerning how that will proceed.”

The current Mississippi Medicaid program covers primarily poor children, poor pregnant women, the disabled and the elderly, but generally does not cover able-bodied adults other than pregnant women and a small group of caregivers.

As of February, the Division of Medicaid website showed about 750,000 enrolled in the Mississippi Medicaid program. Another 48,200 children whose parents make too much for them to be on Medicaid are enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program — another federal program.

While many state leaders argue that the state cannot afford Medicaid expansion, others claim it would save the state money while expand-ing the economy and aiding hospitals that are currently treating patients who have no ability to pay. The Mississippi Hospital Association has endorsed a hybrid Medicaid expansion that has been approved in other states.

“Mississippi will make money if we expand Medicaid,” Bryan said even before the added incentive in the U.S. House COVID-19 relief bill was unveiled. “There will be more money in the state treasury if we expand Medicaid than if we don’t.”