The Medicaid expansion may be the topic, but for Mississippi lawmakers, Medical Marijuana could be on their mind after Hattiesburg pediatrician John Gaudet tabled a proposal for an electoral initiative that would allow voters to decide whether to expand Medicaid supposed to be what state legislation has steadfastly refused to do for more than a decade.
Gaudet submitted the application to the Foreign Minister’s office on February 17. A petition signed by 106,000 registered voters is required before the measure – called Initiative 76 – is put on the ballot, most likely as part of the 2022 midterm elections.
As part of the registration process, Gaudet, who had submitted The Fairness Project on behalf of the national advocacy group, had to add a section on funding for the expansion.
In this section, Medicaid attendees are not required to pay any portion of the health care costs required for Medicaid’s expansion into other states, particularly Indiana.
Under Initiative 76, residents between the ages of 18 and 65 whose income does not exceed 133 percent of the federal poverty rate are entitled to Medicaid health services. Various estimates suggest that the expansion would extend coverage to 200,000 to 300,000 Mississippians who are currently without medical care.
The Biden Administration, along with the other 11 states that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, has offered Mississippi additional federal funding that would offset 95 percent of the cost. Wyoming was the 39th state to pass the Medicaid expansion last week.
Governor Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn remain opposed to expansion, while Governor Delbert Hosemann has expressed support for a modified form of Medicaid expansion, often referring to the Indiana model.
However, as with pre-2019 medical marijuana, Medicaid’s expansion efforts have shown no effect in either chamber.
Filing Initiative 76 could move the legislature to include the Medicaid extension during the 2022 session, when the legislature still has time to design its own extension instead of leaving it to the voters.
“I think we’ll take this up in the next session,” said Rep. Dana McLean (R-Columbus). “As with medical marijuana, it should be up to lawmakers to decide.”
That year lawmakers passed their own medical marijuana law, but only after Initiative 65 qualified for the vote. In November, voters passed the initiative with a lead of almost 3 to 1.
McLean does not want to achieve a similar result with the expansion of Medicaid.
“It’s a very complicated subject that we should have our experts explain so we can put laws together that won’t cause problems later,” she said. “That’s the problem with referendums. Voters don’t always understand the complexities, and you end up with something that can cause more problems. Because of this, I think the expansion of Medicaid should be addressed in the legislation. “
According to polls, 53 percent of Mississippians are in favor of Medicaid’s expansion. Expansion also has a network of organizations that support it, including the Mississippi Hospital Association, whose board of directors will vote today to support Initiative 76.
Gaudet said Medicaid’s expansion shouldn’t be a matter of political ideology.
“This problem doesn’t have to be political or divide,” he said. I think Mississippians have a heart for one another. I’ve seen the problem move from division to something that a broad group of people can leave behind. “
The main resistance comes from Conservative Republicans, including Reeves and Gunn, but Rep. Rob Roberson (R-Starkville) believes the Medicaid expansion has some support among ordinary Republicans.
“I think it’s about 50/50 for some kind of extension,” said Roberson. “I think a plan that would require payment by those who get coverage would be something a lot of Republicans could support.”
When lawmakers meet in January, the problem may be developing a modified form of Medicaid expansion that conservative lawmakers can live with, or leaving it to Initiative 76 voters, which doesn’t offer the restrictions they prefer.
“It seems like (the legislature) always wants to come back afterwards and throw something together,” said Rep. Kabir Karriem (D-Columbus). “I would love to see how the legislation is tracking this, but if history is an indicator … well, I’m not sure that’s going to happen. The silver lining is that at least now it is up for discussion. “