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Senate conferees miss Medicaid expansion meeting called by House officials

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The Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson (Photo by SuperTalk Mississippi News)

Medicaid expansion talks stalled at the state capitol on Thursday with Senate conferees not showing up to a meeting scheduled by conferees with the House of Representatives.

Following Tuesday’s initial conference that resulted in no compromise being reached by the two chambers, Hattiesburg Rep. Missy McGee expressed eagerness to continue discussions to work toward ironing out a proposal that would expand Medicaid coverage to impoverished Mississippians.

Nonetheless, the Senate’s lawmakers tasked with tackling the issue alongside their cross-chamber counterparts — Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven), Nicole Akins-Boyd (R-Oxford), and Brice Wiggins (R-Pascagoula) — were not present, ending any shot at productive dialogue.

“Here we are, a chance to receive 90 cents on the dollar if we give 10 cents. That’s it. I don’t know of a business that would not take that, and yet we’re going to turn that down,” Rep. Sam Creekmore, a House conferee, said. “On the House side, we’re not willing to turn that down. We want to help and here’s an opportunity to help all of these people who have been in the capitol over the past three months asking for help. The House of Representatives is listening.”

Blackwell noted that he was in a public health meeting that coincided with the gathering the House had scheduled. The Senate Medicaid chairman also said that he and his fellow conferees did not have anything to present to the other chamber at this time as they continue to work toward a compromise.

The House’s Medicaid expansion plan would provide coverage for those up to 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL) with a tentative work requirement attached to draw down the maximum amount of federal dollars possible. The proposal would cover an estimated total nearing 200,000 Mississippians.

To cover those up to 138% of the FPL, House conferees offered a compromise for individuals between 0-99% of the federal poverty level to remain under the scope of managed care organizations. People between 100% and 138% of the federal poverty level would remain on the federal insurance exchange. McGee believes this would best entice the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to foot 90% of the cost of running the program, leaving the state to cover 10% to expand coverage.

CMS would have had until September 30, to approve Mississippi’s bid to require people to work 20 hours a week for an employer who does not offer insurance if they want to receive government-provided coverage. If CMS denied the application, full-force Medicaid expansion would then go into effect, according to the House’s proposal.

The Senate, on the other hand, did not budge from its position during Tuesday’s discussions. The proposal offered by the chamber hinges on a 30-hour-a-week work requirement being approved by CMS, or the plan would be null and void.

Individuals earning up to 100% of the federal poverty level would receive expanded coverage. The federal government would cover 77% of the program leaving the state to compensate the remaining 23%. Around 80,000 Mississippians are anticipated to receive expanded care under the Senate’s plan.

Mississippi is one of just 10 states that has not expanded Medicaid coverage. However, Governor Tate Reeves, an ardent foe of expansion, announced a round of Medicaid reimbursements back in September. Both legs of the governor’s plan were approved by CMS, freeing up around $818 million to be given to hospitals statewide amid a healthcare crisis.

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