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Influential Delta business group calls for Medicaid expansion

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Registered nurse Lauren McCool
Registered nurse Lauren McCool prepares to see a patient at Ocean Springs Hospital in Ocean Springs, Miss., Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

A major economic development organization that represents the 19 Mississippi Delta counties on Monday called for lawmakers to expand Medicaid.

The Delta Council, long a powerful lobby that has the ear of top Republican leaders, is among the state’s first major, non-health care related organizations to recommend Medicaid expansion. Major medical groups in the state like the Mississippi Hospital Association have supported expansion for years.

The resolution was passed unanimously by Delta Council’s health and education committee. There are around 150 council members on the committee, though not all of them were in attendance.

“While Medicaid expansion is not a complete panacea for individuals, the community’s economy, health care providers, and employers, it is a critical first step that will benefit all of them in the short and long term,” the resolution reads.

The resolution was presented to the committee after a special subcommittee studied different options for helping struggling health care facilities in the Delta.

“After we talked to the experts and people in the industry, it became obvious that the best way to do that is to expand Medicaid,” said Wade Litton, chairman of Delta Council’s Economic Development Committee and the leader of the subcommittee.

Mississippi is one of just 12 states not to expand Medicaid despite an increased federal matching rate under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that would provide the state with an extra $600 million per year.

Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, two of Mississippi’s top elected officials, fiercely oppose Medicaid expansion. Reeves derisively calls it “Obamacare expansion” and has promised to never support it. Both Reeves and Gunn maintain that the state cannot afford it, despite years of legitimate research and economic studies that indicate otherwise.

At least eight expansion bills were filed during the 2022 legislative session, but none were debated or considered before dying in committee.

If state leaders were to expand Medicaid, at least 225,000 Mississippians would qualify for health care coverage.

READ MORE: ‘It makes it hard to work’: The real cost of not expanding Medicaid in Mississippi

The Delta Council resolution repeatedly refers to the findings of a report from State Economist Corey Miller that showed expanding Medicaid would pay for itself and offer a litany of economic benefits.

According to the report, Medicaid expansion would:

  • Reduce the uncompensated care costs incurred by hospitals statewide. While these costs hurt each hospital’s bottom line, they have devastated small, rural hospitals Mississippi, particularly in the Delta.
  • Create nearly 11,300 jobs a year between 2022 to 2027. Most of these jobs would be added in the health care and social assistance sector.
  • Increase the state’s gross domestic product by between $719 million and $783 million each year.
  • Increase the state’s population by about 3,300 to 11,500 new residents per year between 2022 and 2027. Mississippi was one of just three states in the U.S. to lose population between 2010 to 2020.

Expanding Medicaid would also help decrease the costs incurred by small businesses across the state in paying health insurance premiums for their employees, according to Litton. High amounts of uncompensated care contribute to hospitals raising the price of care, which then leads insurers to raise premiums.

The result is a negative feedback loop that ultimately harms those paying for insurance, Litton said.

Litton also said that Mississippi taxpayers are already helping pay for Medicaid expansion through their federal income taxes, but aren’t seeing any of the benefits from it.

Medicaid currently covers around 780,000 Mississippians. Those include the disabled, poor pregnant women, poor children and a segment of the elderly population. Medicaid expansion would provide coverage to those making up to 138% of the federal poverty level, or $17,774 annually for an individual.

Tom Gresham, a member of the health and education committee who has previously served as chairman and president of Delta Council, said the passing of the resolution supporting Medicaid expansion shows that the leadership of the business and agriculture communities in the Delta understand the health care needs in their communities.

“You have to have a healthy workforce and quality medical care for communities to thrive and to grow,” Gresham said.

More people left the Mississippi Delta between 2010 and 2020 than any other area of the state. Gresham said that the much-needed economic boon Medicaid expansion would provide the Delta would help encourage people to stay.

Getting people insured would also improve access to health screenings and preventative care, resulting in huge savings for individuals, health systems and taxpayers, Gresham said.

“If we keep somebody from having a stroke, think of the money we save versus if they have a stroke and they have to get on disability,” Gresham said. “That’s how we keep people in the workforce.”

READ MORE: Medicaid expansion would boost economy significantly more than legislative income tax cut, studies show

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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