Meridian Star

Columns

October 24, 2012

Reeves sees Medicaid as a leading issue

STARKVILLE —    For all intents and purposes, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has held the office of lieutenant governor for more than a year now despite the fact that he didn’t take office officially until January of this year.

    But after defeating fellow Republican Billy Hewes in the contested 2011 GOP primary, Reeves cruised to formally win the election without a Democratic opponent. That fact gave Reeves extra months to assemble his legislative “go” team and put a staff in place.

    Today, after putting a successful first session under his belt in 2012, Reeves now faces his second regular session with a host of difficult issues on the Legislature’s agenda. What will Mississippi – the poorest state in the union – do with the question of Medicaid expansion?

    To accept the Medicaid expansion called for in the Obama health care reforms would expose Mississippi taxpayers to the possibility of being left “holding the bag” should a future Congress reshuffle the deck in terms of what the feds pay for Medicaid in combination with the state.

    Yet to fail to expand Medicaid could assign tens of thousands in Mississippi to struggle without the resources they need to have adequate health care.

    What about charter schools? What about higher education finance? What about funding corrections?

    Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn - his counterpart in the House – have spent much of their first year in office overseeing an orderly transition from the political anomaly of the administration of former Gov. Haley Barbour to the more traditional administration of Gov. Phil Bryant.

    For Reeves and for Gunn, it’s been about overseeing a reassertion of the historical power of the Mississippi Legislature as established in the 1890 Constitution. In less than a year, Mississippi has essentially made the shift to the old paradigms of a strong lieutenant governor and a strong House speaker and a more "traditional" governor more in keeping with the scant powers afforded a governor by the 1890 Constitution.

    Bryant has been savvy in the battles he has chosen with lawmakers, but his strength has remained in the House – where he got his start in statewide politics as a Rankin County lawmaker.

    Yet it was Reeves that got the most acclaim – and blame – when the state failed to pass a bond bill in 2012 for the first time in recent memory. Conservatives hailed the move as a shift away from business as usual in state government while those entities who depended on the bond bill’s revenues groused.

    Last week, during a visit to Mississippi State University to meet with student and professional groups, Reeves seemed relaxed, focused and ready to get down to business in the 2013 regular session.

    Like most lawmakers, Reeves seemed to laser in on the Medicaid issue as the toughest matter facing lawmakers. Historically, public health care and public education at all levels have been the government functions that took the lion’s share of the debate and the money when lawmakers gather.

    As a numbers guy, Reeves knows  that fundamental changes in Medicaid finance dictated by the Obama health care reforms – with or without Medicaid expansion in Mississippi – could fundamentally change Mississippi’s Medicaid program and how Mississippi funds the state’s portion of Medicaid.

    While he declined comment on the matter, it’s clear that the state is at a crossroads on the future of Medicaid funding moving forward. That fact, and the fact that the legislative and executive branches of state government continue to adjust to the new paradigms of a strong Legislature, should make the state’s health care industry pay close attention well beyond the outcome of the presidential election.

    Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or sidsalter@sidsalter.com

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