JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves released a proposal Thursday aimed at helping some of the state's financially struggling hospitals, even as the Democrat who is trying to unseat him has spent months hammering Reeves for opposing Medicaid expansion in one of the poorest states in the nation.
Hospitals would pay some higher taxes as a way to receive substantially more federal Medicaid money, Mississippi Medicaid director Drew Snyder said. Reeves said he and Snyder worked with hospital executives on the proposal.
“This funding will provide a major boost for county hospitals as well as for private institutions,” Reeves said at a news conference, where he stood with some of the executives. "And I also want to note that these changes will come at almost no cost to Mississippi taxpayers.”
The state submitted documents Thursday seeking the required federal approval for the plan. But Reeves said he did know how long it would take to receive an answer.
The proposal is “very, very similar to programs in a couple of other states that have been approved," Reeves said.
Mississippi is one of 10 states that have not expanded Medicaid to low-wage workers whose jobs don't provide private health insurance. Expansion is an option under the health care overhaul signed into law in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama.
Reeves has said for years that he opposes Medicaid expansion because he does not want to add more people to a government program that he derides as “welfare.”
“The expansion of Obamacare, while (it) certainly adds a significant number of people to the welfare rolls, does not have the kind of financial impact that some of you in the room and some people across the state think that it will have,” Reeves told reporters.
Health officials have said Mississippi could receive about $1 billion a year from the federal government for Medicaid expansion. The federal government would pay 90% of the cost for people added to the program, and the state government would pay 10%.
Brandon Presley, the Democratic nominee for governor in the Nov. 7 election, said at a campaign event last week in Summit that “not expanding Medicaid is one of the dumbest decisions that this state has ever made.”
Presley said expansion could help keep hospitals open and provide coverage for 220,000 people — a lower figure for potential enrollees than Reeves cites.
“They are folks like the lady that’s going to be wiping the table at the Waffle House somewhere here in Mississippi tonight,” Presley said. “Somebody will get up tomorrow and they’ll go to work at a Quick Lube changing oil, busting down tires. We’re talking people that roof houses. We’re talking about people that sweat. Folks that have to take a shower before and after work.”
Mississippi has 74 rural hospitals. Five have closed since 2005, and 24 are at immediate risk of closing because of severe financial problems, according to a national policy group, Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform. Only Texas and Kansas have more hospitals in that risk category.
Rep. Cheikh Taylor, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, described the governor's proposal Thursday as “Too little, too Tate.”
“He's caring about his political position going into the final days of this election,” Taylor said. “I think the public, the almost 3 million people in the state of Mississippi, will see clear through that and understand that this is politricks, not politics.”
In April, Reeves signed a bill to create a Mississippi Hospital Sustainability Grant Program to alleviate some financial problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals are eligible for $250,000 to $1 million, depending on the size of the facility and whether it offers emergency services. The bill passed 52-0 in the Senate and 111-2 in the House.
Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press