Meridian Star

February 11, 2014

Miss. House moves forward with money for clinics

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press
Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — The Republican-led Mississippi House voted Monday to give $4.8 million of state money to health clinics that provide primary care for low-income patients, but Democrats criticized the proposal as a minuscule effort compared to the federal dollars Mississippi could collect by expanding Medicaid.

House Bill 413 is supported by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant. It goes to the Senate, where prospects are uncertain.

Medicaid expansion is an option under the health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law. Bryant and other top Republicans say they oppose putting more people on the federal-state health insurance program because they don't trust promises of federal funding and they don't want to increase people's dependence on government programs.

House Public Health Committee Chairman Sam Mims, R-McComb, said Monday that about 55 clinics could apply for a share of the $4.8 million of proposed state money. If every clinic received money, each would get roughly $85,000, he said, and they could use it to hire employees or expand hours.

The money would be for the 21 federally qualified health clinics and for more than 30 nonprofit health clinics, many of which are in rural areas.

Democrats said Medicaid expansion would enable patients to receive comprehensive coverage that clinics cannot offer, including hospitalization or cancer treatment.

"If you vote for this, don't go home and tell folks you're taking care of poor folks and their health care needs," said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson. "It's not true."

The House on Monday also passed House Bill 1289, which would create a 23-member commission to study the future of Medicaid and health care in Mississippi. The governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker would either serve as members or appoint people to serve. All three have said publicly that they oppose Medicaid expansion.

Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, who favors Medicaid expansion, said the proposed commission could be a way to provide "political cover" for politicians who oppose Medicaid expansion.

"It's a smoke screen, people," Bailey told the House.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, said Bailey's assessment is "about as ridiculous as anything I've heard." He said state officials need a comprehensive way to study health care policy, and a commission could provide that.