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Mississippi to look hard at expanding Medicaid, says new House speaker

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Lawmakers in Mississippi are expected to look harder than ever at expanding Medicaid, according to new House Speaker Jason White.

Mississippi, which is one of 10 states across the U.S. holding out on expansion, has had a habit of shutting down every bill as quickly as it comes in if the basis is providing healthcare coverage to more low-income residents. White, during an interview on The Gallo Show, said that’s about to change.

“I want to keep them in the workforce and out of the emergency rooms. That’s a bad place to get primary healthcare is in an emergency room because usually, it’s too late or the problem is exasperated,” White said. “So, we’re going to look at it, and I’m going to put some of our smartest people on that.”

While White did not guarantee that expansion would pass in Mississippi, he pointed to the longevity of the issue and how Republicans on the federal level have mostly come around to expansion.

Jason White was elected as Mississippi’s House speaker on Tuesday

“I think we really need to look at it,” White reiterated. “It’s been the law of the land now for 12 years. It’s with us. There were even a couple years where Republicans held the House, the Senate, and the White House in Washington, and those laws were not repealed.”

Even though Medicaid expansion was solidified under former Democratic President Barack Obama as part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, the idea was originally initiated by former Republican President Ronald Reagan when one of his top legislative priorities was reforming Medicaid beginning in 1981. Since expansion’s official inception in 2014, Republican states have slowly hopped on board with Oklahoma and Missouri being the most recent to do so in 2021.

Although Mississippi has rarely entertained Medicaid expansion on the floor with all efforts being quickly squashed, White said it’s about understanding what the state can afford. A recent study showed that if the state paid for 10 percent, or around $100 million, it would be reimbursed an estimated $1 billion for making Medicaid more widely available.

“We need to figure out what’s best for our state. I mean we already have about 700,000 Mississippians on Medicaid, so I get it,” White added. “It is a significant portion of our population – about a fourth and if you go to adding a few hundred thousand people, now you’re at one in three – so we’ve got to be real careful about what we can afford.”

In the meantime, Gov. Tate Reeves has taken strides in addressing the state’s ongoing healthcare and hospital crisis. Reeves, a staunch opponent of full-on expansion, pushed a reimbursement plan through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that could provide up to $700 million to struggling hospitals.

“What they did for our hospitals with the enhanced reimbursement this fall, it was a godsend,” White said. “That was a big deal to help out hospitals. [Medicaid expansion] could be a big deal for our working folks and our providers.”

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