Former UM leader: Gov. Reeves admitted Medicaid expansion was good policy
JACKSON – Dan Jones, the former chancellor of the University of Mississippi, on Thursday said that Gov. Tate Reeves admitted to him years ago that expanding Medicaid to the working poor would benefit the state, but it was politically dangerous for Republicans to pursue.
Jones, who served as the leader of the university and its medical center from 2009 to 2015, told reporters at a press conference that Reeves, a Republican, visited him at the Lyceum in 2013 or 2014, and the topic of Medicaid expansion arose.
“The governor, after a few moments of the conversation, put his hands up and said, ‘Chancellor I recognize that it would be good for Mississippians, it would be good for our economy, good for health care if we expand Medicaid,’ Jones recalled. “I had a big smile on my face and I said, ‘Governor, I'm so glad to hear that. I’m glad to hear you support Medicaid expansion.’ His response: ‘Oh no. I’m not going to support it. It’s not in my personal political interest.’”
Reeves on Twitter called Jones' revelation a lie and said he believes he has not spoken to "this dude," well before he left Oxford as chancellor of the university.
"It's just not true," Reeves wrote. "It would be easier for me politically to roll over and let the liberals have this one. I just don't believe that is the right thing to do — and I'm always going to do what is right!"
Mississippi leads the nation in some of the worst health outcomes and around 14.5% of Mississippians are uninsured. The Mississippi State Department of Health also recently released a report showing that Mississippi’s maternal mortality rates are getting worse.
The state health officer told lawmakers this summer that over half of the state’s rural hospitals are at risk of closure soon. Hospital leaders for years have said if Medicaid were expanded to include the working poor, it would help them financially.
The former university leader said he decided to keep his conversation with Reeves private because he served in leadership roles at the university and its medical school for several years.
“My public comments had to be constrained because I had to be able to walk into a Republican's office about our budget,” Jones said. “I’m retired now; I’m unconstrained, and the crisis is upon us.”
Jones’ revelation on Thursday counters the public narrative the first-term governor has long trumpeted about Mississippi’s option to expand the Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the federal law Republican opponents often refer to as “Obamacare.”
“Don’t simply cave under the pressure of Democrats and their allies in the media who are pushing for the expansion of Obamacare, welfare, and socialized medicine,” Reeves said during his annual State of the State address on Monday.
But several Republican states have also adopted the so-called “expansion of Obamacare.”
Mississippi is one of only 11 states that have opted not to expand the program. Several conservative states like Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri, have opted to expand Medicaid. Mississippi is just one of two states in the nation that has not opted to either expand Medicaid or extend postpartum benefits for up to a year for new mothers.
If Mississippi were to join other states in expanding the program, the state would be required to cover 10% of the costs and the federal government would provide a 90% match.
But Reeves isn’t alone in his opposition.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, and House leaders for years have blocked the entire House chamber from voting on Medicaid expansion or postpartum extension.
The House Medicaid Committee hasn’t even convened a meeting this year, and all of the Medicaid bills that lawmakers authored died in the committee led by Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman.
“We can’t afford to keep kicking this can down the road while so many Mississippians’ lives hang in the balance,” Senate Minority Derrick Simmons said.
Once again, access to health care has become a focal point of statewide politics and the 2023 election cycle.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley told the Daily Journal in a statement that when Reeves has a choice between “doing right by Mississippi or getting ahead in his career, he always chooses himself.”
“Because he has no backbone, 38 hospitals may close and more Mississippians may die because of lack of access to health care,” Presley said. “People deserve affordable health care — plain and simple.”
While politicians will squabble over the program throughout the rest of the legislative session and during the upcoming election, Jones said he hopes politicians will recognize the importance of expanding health care access to more Mississippians.
“Shame on us in the richest country in the world and in a state with millions and millions and millions and billions of dollars in its coffers for us not to act on this to make health care available to all of our citizens in our state,” Jones said. “It is immoral. It is immoral.”