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Public Health Advocates Call For Medicaid Expansion

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 07 Jan 2013 05:19pm | comments

A group of Mississippi hospitals, and public health advocates are calling on state lawmakers to expand the Medicaid program. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports advocates say expanding Medicaid makes public health and economic sense.

The group, calling itself the Mississippi Health care Access Coalition, wants state lawmakers to expand the Medicaid program to include any Mississippian up to 133-percent of the federal poverty line.

The expansion is a provision in the Health Care Reform law, and Roy Mitchell with the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program says the federal government will pick up the bulk of the cost of the roughly 300-thousand new Medicaid enrollees.

"Not only is it an opportunity for us to pull ourselves up from the bottom of the health indicator list but it is a real economic boom to the state," Mitchell said.

A study by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning projects that expanding the program will make money for the state before eventually costing about one-hundred-million dollars a year by 2025.

During a conference call with reporters, Kimberly Hughes with the American Cancer Society supported expanding Medicaid.

She says people with insurance are more likely to go to the doctor leading to over improved public health.

"Just improving that access to care throughout the state. Especially in our rural communities. So the hospitals will stay open and they will continue to have physicians and health care providers for the people in this state to have access to," Hughes said.

Leading Republican lawmakers have repeatedly opposed expanding Medicaid in Mississippi citing potential cost figures much higher than the IHL prediction.

Governor Phil Bryant says the state just cannot afford it.

"We can't afford the 640-thousand Medicaid recipients we currently have. To expand it (by) 300-thousand would necessarily take a huge tax increase or draconian cuts to existing budget," Bryant said.

Whether or not to expand Medicaid is likely to be a hot topic during the three-month legislative session which begins today.

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