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‘Full Expansion Now’: Advocates Rally At Mississippi Capitol For Medicaid Expansion

A white man speaks before a crowd at a podium bearing a golden Mississippi state seal
Southside Baptist Church Pastor Jeff Parker called for the Legislature to expand Medicaid during a rally on the steps of the Mississippi Capitol Building in Jackson, Miss., on April 16, 2024. “I was warned that, as a Southern Baptist Republican, that (supporting) this issue, expanding Medicaid, might possibly brand me as a liberal,” he said. Photo by Imani Khayyam

JACKSON, Miss.—Amid a diverse crowd of pro-Medicaid expansion activists gathered on the steps of the Mississippi Capitol building in Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday, Raine Rosson held up a cardboard sign saying that she was there in place of her sick mother, Janet. “My mother is too sick and weak from cancer to come here today,” the sign read.

“She was going to come, but she didn’t feel up to it,” Raine Rosson said in an interview with the Mississippi Free Press on Tuesday. “She’s always been a champion for human rights, but this is an issue that happened to come home to her.”

Rosson, who drove down to Jackson from Starkville with her husband John, said her mother experienced first-hand the realities of skyrocketing health-care costs when doctors diagnosed her with the debilitating illness.

Although insurance covered the costs for most of her mother’s treatments, the family wondered about the uninsured Mississippians who avoid doctor visits because of out-of-pocket expenses.

“If we’re going to be pro-life, to me, the most obvious thing is to take care of the people that are suffering because they can’t go to the doctor,” Rosson said. “People can’t get care. It’s a real shame.”

The rally comes as lawmakers from the Mississippi House and Senate are working together to come to an agreement for a Medicaid expansion plan after the two chambers passed significantly different bills earlier in the session.

Several faith leaders spoke during the Medicaid expansion rally on the steps of The Capitol Building on Tuesday.

Southside Baptist Church Pastor Jeff Parker called out what he described as the cognitive dissonance of those who spout Christian values but refuse to support public policies like full Medicaid expansion.

“I was warned that, as a Southern Baptist Republican, that (supporting) this issue—expanding Medicaid—might possibly brand me as a liberal,” Parker said.

“My response was simple: You Christians cannot have it both ways,” the pastor continued, to applause from the crowd. “You hold to conservative fiscal policies in government. You tighten the grip of our government on humanitarian expenditures while your churches build campuses in excess of $25 million.”

A man and a woman pose by a tall set of stone stairs. The woman is holding a sign that says "My mother is too sick and weak with cancer to come here today!"
Raine Rosson, pictured with her husband John Rosson, said on April 16, 2024, that she attended the Medicaid expansion rally at the Mississippi Capitol Building in Jackson, Miss., in place of her mother who was too sick to attend. Photo by Imani Khayyam

While the Senate passed a Medicaid expansion bill on March 28, their version of expansion would include strict work requirements for people to receive benefits. The bill would also cut the number of people eligible under expansion down from about 200,000 under a bill the Mississippi House passed to 80,000 or less under the Senate plan—while costing the state more because it would leave $700 million in federal funding to expand Medicaid on the table. If the federal government does not approve the Senate bill’s work requirements, the proposal says Medicaid expansion would not take effect, meaning no one would benefit.

Most people who would qualify under expanded Medicaid are low-wage workers who make too much for traditional Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. The House plan included full Medicaid expansion under former President Barack Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which allows residents who make up to 138% of the federal poverty level ($20,120 annually for an individual or $40,056 for a family of four) to qualify, as the Mississippi Free Press reported in March.

The Senate plan would only allow people to qualify if they make up to 100% of the federal poverty level ($15,060 per year for a single person or $31,200 for a family of four).

Gov. Tate Reeves opposes both bills. “It is welfare expansion to those able-bodied adults that could work but choose not to,” he tweeted on March 27.

“And so I will continue to do what I told the voters I would do – fight Obamacare Medicaid Expansion with every ounce of my being!” Reeves continued.

Gov. Tate Reeves delivers speaks from a podium inside
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has long opposed Medicaid expansion, which he derides as “welfare expansion” and “Obamacare expansion.” AP Photo / Rogelio V. Solis

The Center for Mississippi Health Policy commissioned the Hilltop Institute at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to conduct an analysis of the two bills and recommend a plan that suits the interests of both chambers, Mississippi Today reported on Tuesday.

Republican House Speaker Jason White, R-West and Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann have appointed their picks for a team of all-white, all-Republican lawmakers to negotiate and reach an agreement on a final compromise plan between the two chambers.

The House conferees include Reps. Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg; Rep. Sam Creekmore, R-New Albany; and Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman. The Senate conferees are Sens. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven; Nicole Boyd, R-Jackson; and Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula.

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