A forum by Reilly Morse: Nearly 30,000 Coast workers could qualify for Medicaid

Sun HeraldAs more and more states move forward with Medicaid expansion, Mississippi is increasingly being left behind.

As part of health care reform, states have the option of expanding access to Medicaid, the joint state-federal program that provides health insurance to the poor. This expansion is targeted at adults working in low-wage jobs and have no other access to health-care coverage. To avoid burdening the budgets of states like Mississippi, the federal government will pay for 100 percent of the expansion for the first three years, tapering down to 90 percent going forward.

Most states are opting into the expansion or considering it. The only holdouts have been Republican governors like Mississippi’s who opposed health care reform. Mississippi could be the worst-impacted state in the nation by this decision. Medicaid expansion will help people living on incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($26,344 for a family of three), and Mississippi has a higher percentage of people in that category than any other state currently rejecting expansion.

But now a growing number of other Republican governors — including Jan Brewer in Arizona, Chris Christie in New Jersey and John Kasich in Ohio — have realized the practical advantages of Medicaid expansion and have announced they will sign on. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida announced he is changing course from his original opposition and will embrace expansion.

Gov. Phil Bryant has an opportunity now to show similar leadership, and plenty are urging him to do so. Allowing more hardworking Mississippians to access Medicaid would be a great boon to the economy, creating 9,000 jobs in our state. Many of these would be high-quality jobs in the health sector, which Bryant himself says is a key growth area for Mississippi’s economy.

The expansion represents an investment in our state by the federal government. For every $1 Mississippi spends in Medicaid expansion, we will receive more than $14 from the federal government, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study. That’s money Mississippians already have paid through federal taxes, and it will go to other states if we don’t take advantage of the chance to bring it here.

Expanding Medicaid will enable patients to go to the doctor regularly and treat conditions before they become more serious. And of course, a healthy population and a healthy economy go hand in hand.

Nearly 30,000 workers in our six coastal counties would be eligible for better health care if Bryant reconsiders his opposition to Medicaid expansion, We hope he can show the same leadership his peers have shown and embrace Medicaid expansion as the right choice for our state.

Reilly Morse of Biloxi is managing director of the Mississippi Center for Justice. Email: rmorse@mscenterforjustice.org