There must be a discount on the cost of filing ballot initiative paperwork at the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office, because another one is lining up behind a recent proposal to expand early voting.
The newest one would enshrine Medicaid expansion in the state Constitution, forcing state officials to accept a generous federal offer to provide medical care for lower-income workers who cannot afford health insurance.
This initiative, according to the Mississippi Today website, has the support of a heavy hitter. The president of the Mississippi Hospital Association (MHA) has set up a non-profit organization to lead the effort.
MHA president Tim Moore told Mississippi Today that since the Republican leadership in Jackson is firmly against Medicaid expansion, advocates must take their case directly to the voters.
Frankly, given the state’s relatively low per-capita income, along with a below-average percentage of workers who have employer-based health insurance, it’s easy to predict that Medicaid expansion has a good chance of being approved if it gets to a referendum.
To put it another way, if voters approved last year’s medical marijuana initiative by a 3-to-1 margin, what’s to stop a majority from supporting health care for the working poor? The hospital association told Mississippi Today that polls say most voters, including up to 60% of Republicans, support expansion.
Most Republicans, including Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, say the state shouldn’t expand Medicaid because there’s no guarantee the federal government will keep up its generous 90% funding. One day, in the very distant future, they may be proven right. But over the past 12 years, it’s been very evident that no matter which party controls Washington, the free money will flow. There is no sign of this changing any time soon.
Mississippi, as one of 12 states that have declined to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, has already missed out on about $8 billion. That’s a stunning amount of money to reject, and the total will only increase while the state keeps ignoring it.
The hospital association is correct when it says that kind of cash, about $1 billion a year, could save the finances of hospitals in the state, which are getting crushed by the cost of free medical care. And more importantly, the money would provide care for people who have a job — who are trying to do right — but earn too much to qualify for other government-sponsored medical assistance.
Voters in at least two other states, Oklahoma and Missouri, recently approved measures to expand Medicaid after lawmakers refused to do it. The plot has thickened in Missouri, where Republicans in the House specifically refused to put the extra funding in a budget bill — despite the new constitutional amendment.
It is mystifying that Mississippi lawmakers are so unwilling to help the working poor, especially when it would bring so much federal money into Mississippi. Estimates on the number of people who would benefit from Medicaid expansion range from 170,000 to 400,000. Either figure represents a significant number of potential voters.