Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann shuts down idea to let Mississippi voters decide on Medicaid expansion

Published 5:31 am Thursday, May 2, 2024

by Taylor Vance, Mississippi Today
May 1, 2024

After House Republicans asked Senate leaders to agree to a proposal that would place Medicaid expansion on November’s statewide ballot, Senate leader Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said the idea had no legs in his chamber and added that expansion talks were likely done for the year.

House Speaker Jason White, a Republican from West, announced the idea in a statement Wednesday night and pointed out it had become clear over the last few days that House and Senate Republicans were still far from agreement over the best way to expand Medicaid coverage.

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The bill narrowly escaped death on Wednesday afternoon until House Democrats forced a procedural vote that granted everyone more time to find compromise.

“This session proved that a consensus has formed and we all share the same goal: to provide healthcare access to low-income Mississippians,” White said. “Creating a referendum process for this issue is a clear direction forward. We hope that our colleagues in the Senate will take this opportunity to finally hear from the electorate once and for all.”

About an hour after White announced the referendum idea, Hosemann poured cold water on the idea with a statement of his own.

“We had some discussions with senators today about the possibility of a non-binding referendum on the ballot and the idea was not well received,” Hosemann said. “We are disappointed in the outcome this year, but value the discussions which occurred this session — the first time this Legislature has seriously considered healthcare reform in our state.

“I remain committed to finding ways to increase access for working Mississippians who otherwise do not have the resources for a simple check-up or an extended hospital stay,” Hosemann continued. “A strong work requirement, with necessary exceptions, is a bottom line for many Senators. We look forward to continuing the conversation on access to healthcare in the future.”

READ MORE: Lawmakers buy one more day to reach Medicaid expansion compromise

The House’s full proposal was not made available on Wednesday night, but White’s statement said the proposed referendum would be two-fold: Voters would decide if they think Medicaid should be expanded to the working poor and if the program should include work requirements for recipients.

House Democratic caucus leadership supported the House Republican effort, saying in a statement Wednesday night that if the language in the House’s referendum is “very clear” and allows working Mississippians to get the “health care we know that they need,” then they would likely support the new proposal.

“We are excited about the opportunity to finally give the people of this state a chance to voice what we know to be — that they want this, and they want it as quickly as possible,” read a statement from Reps. Robert Johnson and Daryl Porter, the House Democratic leaders.

The statewide ballot referendum idea was seen late Wednesday as a renewed chance for Republicans to find an expansion agreement — something that had become elusive during the first legislative session that expansion was earnestly considered.

At the heart of the Senate and House disagreement was a requirement that mandated Medicaid recipients work — a provision that the federal government had blocked in 13 other states.

House and Senate Republican negotiators earlier in the week agreed to a deal that would expand Medicaid only if a strict work requirement was approved by the federal government. House Republicans, who had previously proposed an expansion program that would go into effect even without federal approval of a work requirement, caved late Monday and agreed to the Senate Republicans’ demand to include the make-or-break work requirement provision.

But House Democrats, who had for weeks vowed to not support any expansion plan that included a work requirement, fulfilled that promise on Wednesday and threatened to vote against the Republican bill on the House floor. The Democrats’ dug-in position against the bill would likely have killed the proposal, which needed a three-fifths majority vote to pass.

Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Ebenezer, said he was one of 29 Democrats who would not vote for the agreement as it stood on Wednesday. He said he was unsure whether he would support the issue going to a statewide referendum.

“I think we as a Legislature should do it — that’s what people hired us to do,” Clark said. “I wouldn’t be just totally opposed to that idea, but sometimes the devil is in the details. What would be put before the people? Would it be a clean expansion proposal, or something else? I am 85% sure the citizens of Mississippi would pass something that is a clean Medicaid expansion proposal.”

Note: This article will be updated.

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