Bobby Harrison

BOBBY HARRISON

Legendary baseball announcer Jack Buck once famously proclaimed, “I don’t believe what I just saw.”

Perhaps some Mississippi politicians opposed to Medicaid expansion should proclaim, “I don’t believe what I keep on hearing and reading from the experts.”

A report released last week by Mississippi’s University Research Center is among a plethora of studies telling politicians that expanding Medicaid to provide coverage for primarily the working poor (between 200,000-300,000 Mississippians) would be an economic boon for the state.

The expansion is allowed under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

The latest study, authored by state economist Corey Miller and senior economist Sondra Collins, showed that besides the positives of providing health care coverage for the uninsured, expanding Medicaid would produce an average of 11,000 jobs per year between 2022 and 2027 and provide an additional $44 million per year for the general fund.

Mississippi has given multiple private corporations — ranging from car manufacturers to tire companies to green energy companies — hundreds of millions in tax breaks based on studies showing they would deliver far fewer benefits to the state than Medicaid expansion.

There have been other studies that said essentially the same thing. A 2013 study, written by David Becker and Michael Morrisey of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Health Care Organization and Policy, projected that Medicaid expansion would generate 20,000 jobs, provide money for the state general fund and produce $2 billion in economic activity annually for Mississippi.

A study earlier this year by the Commonwealth Fund, a Washington D.C.-based health care advocacy group and the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, reached similar conclusions.

In fairness to expansion foes, a 2012 study by the University Research Center surmised the cost to the state to expand Medicaid would be as high as $86 million annually by 2022, but that on the positive note the expansion would generate more than 9,000 jobs.

In 2012, some cited the study’s conclusion that there might not be enough health care providers to take care of the new Medicaid recipients as a reason to oppose expansion. Not wanting poor people to see a doctor because it might inconvenience those who already have insurance could be construed as a selfish reason not to expand Medicaid.

While most studies indicate that Medicaid expansion would not be a drain on the state general fund, still, just to be safe, the Mississippi Hospital Association has offered a plan to help offset any potential cost to the state. The Hospital Association plan would, in part, entail a modest co-pay on Medicaid expansion recipients and a tax on state hospitals. Mississippi hospitals have said they still would come out ahead even if they were paying more in taxes to help offset the 10% state match needed to draw down literally billions in federal funds for expansion.

“This isn’t going to hurt the state budget, but help it,” Richard Robertson, vice president of policy with the Mississippi Hospital Association, told the Starkville Rotary Club in 2019.

Politicians in the state who have opposed Medicaid expansion — Speaker Philip Gunn, Gov. Tate Reeves and numerous legislators — have offered several reasons for their opposition. The primary reason they cite, though, is that the state cannot afford to pay for the expansion. Multiple studies refute that claim.

Other reasons have included that the courts might throw out the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, numerous lawsuits have been filed seeking to strike down the ACA, but they have been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

They also argue that Congress eventually might eliminate the program. Granted, for four years former President Donald Trump tried and failed. Now, 38 states, including many Republican-dominated states, have expanded Medicaid. Would senators and congressmen from those states really vote to repeal the program at this point?

Reeves, an acolyte of Trump, who is a fierce opponent of former President Barack Obama, often talks of his opposition to Obamacare.

Gunn has reasoned that the state’s poorest and sickest already have coverage and that expanding Medicaid would “bring in another class of citizens who are not in the lowest category. This would be the next tier up. I just do not think we can afford it.”

In most instances, the existing Mississippi Medicaid program covers the disabled, poor pregnant women, poor children and some groups of the elderly. Generally speaking, healthy adults cannot gain coverage through the existing Medicaid program.

Studies show that those benefitting from Medicaid expansion would be people employed in the service sector, cashiers, construction workers and other similar laborers.

It is hard to believe what we keep on hearing and reading from the politicians.

BOBBY HARRISON is Mississippi Today’s senior Capitol reporter and was a longtime Capitol reporter for the Daily Journal. Readers can contact him at (601) 946-9931 or bharrison@mississippitoday.org.

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