Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Greenwood Commonwealth. September 9, 2023.

Editorial: Jason White Is Open To Reason

There is hope. Mississippi may expand Medicaid to cover the working poor sooner than previously imagined.

What provides this hope, after nearly a decade of stubborn Republican opposition at the state Capitol?

This past week’s comments by state Rep. Jason White, who is widely expected to be this state’s speaker of the House starting in January.

In an interview with Mississippi Today, White said that under his leadership, the House would be open to exploring the possibility of Medicaid expansion, something that had not happened during Philip Gunn’s tenure as head of that chamber.

Gunn, who is retiring at the end of this year, and Gov. Tate Reeves, who is seeking reelection, have been the two major reasons why Mississippi is one of only 10 states in the country that have not expanded Medicaid. The two Republicans have been completely close-minded to the possibility, even while public sentiment, according to the opinion polls, has steadily moved in favor of increasing the number of Mississippians covered by the mostly federally funded government health insurance program. Gunn and Reeves have also been close-minded while the state’s hospitals, in part because of the burden of providing care to a high percentage of patients who are uninsured, are near to imploding, especially in rural areas such as the Delta.

White is not championing Medicaid expansion, but the Republican leader-in-waiting has strongly signaled that he is keeping an open mind and is going to give his chamber the opportunity to vote on the matter, something Gunn would never do.

“Now, I’m not out here on the curb pushing Medicaid expansion, but we are going to have full discussions on that and all facets of health care in Mississippi,” White was quoted as telling Mississippi Today while also acknowledging that his party deserves the criticism it has received for refusing to even closely study the matter so far.

A fair hearing is all that proponents of Medicaid expansion, including this newspaper, can ask. If given a fair hearing, with input from hospital and other health officials, economists and even representatives of neighboring states where Medicaid has been expanded, the overwhelming conclusion will be that Mississippi is crazy for not doing this.

Legislative approval doesn’t get the proposal past the Governor’s Mansion, should Reeves be reelected, as is presently anticipated. Getting a two-thirds majority to override a gubernatorial veto is admittedly rare, but it can happen. Besides, if Reeves becomes the last obstacle to expansion, it’s easier to knock down one major impediment than two. You only have to remember how he capitulated on changing the state flag without a referendum after the rest of the Republican leadership and the state’s business community got solidly behind a new, non-divisive banner.

Mississippi is eventually going to expand Medicaid. It’s leaving too much money on the table — an estimated billion dollars a year — for it to hold out forever. Jason White and other sensible Republicans are coming to this realization. It is an encouraging development.