Meridian Star

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June 29, 2013

Miss. lawmakers keep Medicaid alive and funded

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi lawmakers adjourned their two-day special session late Friday after passing bills to keep Medicaid alive and funded for the new fiscal year that starts Monday.

Republicans hold the majority in the House and Senate, and they blocked Democrats' efforts to extend Medicaid to another 300,000 low-income people — additional coverage that is an option under the federal health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed in 2010

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant praised legislators for their work, saying that the renewal of Medicaid was "a victory for the vulnerable." He also said he was happy that he and lawmakers "stopped expansion of Obamacare," which he considers expensive and risky.

"We got accomplished what we wanted," Bryant said outside the House chamber, his shirt sleeves rolled up after watching debate.

Medicaid is a government health insurance program for the needy and it already covers more than 644,000 of the nearly 3 million residents of Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation.

House Bill 1 keeps Medicaid alive, and Bryant said he is signing it Saturday. It also renews a hospital tax that helps pay for the program.

House Bill 2 is the budget for the program. Bryant signed it Friday night.

Lawmakers ended up in special session because they finished their three-month regular session in early April without funding Medicaid or passing a bill to keep it alive beyond June 30, the end of the current budget year. They spent much of the regular session in a partisan squabble over expansion.

Only a governor can call a special session and he controls the agenda. Much of the session was taken up with bursts of work in one chamber or the other, followed by long hours of waiting and uncertainty.

Lawmakers waited several hours Friday for Bryant to add the hospital tax to the session's agenda. They had expected to handle the hospital tax in a separate bill. Finally, without waiting for Bryant any longer, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves gaveled the Senate to order after 7 p.m. and quickly pulled up the reauthorization bill the chamber had passed hours earlier, House Bill 1. Senators revised the bill to add the hospital tax.

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