JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers ended their three-month session Thursday, but they'll return to the Capitol in the next several weeks to handle a big piece of unfinished business: Keeping the Medicaid program alive beyond July 1.
Many state agencies have to be reauthorized every few years, and Medicaid was up for review this session. Bills to reauthorize and pay for Medicaid died amid partisan bickering over whether to expand the program under the health law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010. Democrats are for expansion; Republicans are against it.
The state's next budget year starts July 1, and Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has to call lawmakers back into special session before then to keep Medicaid alive beyond that date — with or without expansion.
On Thursday, he said he doesn't yet know when he'll call the special session.
"I think it's likely when we get an agreement," Bryant told reporters outside his Capitol office. "To make the taxpayers have to pay for the cost of a special session to come back here so that Democrats can kill Medicaid is not something I'm going to do."
House Democratic Leader Bobby Moak didn't sound like his party was backing down.
"Democrats will continue to work toward expansion of health care for everyone by pushing for a vote on the issue," Moak, of Bogue Chitto, said in a news release. "Democrats stand firm in the position that Mississippi needs the $10 (billion) to $15 billion dollar infusion into the program and the 9,000 jobs that will be created."
Medicaid is a government health insurance program for the needy, and it's funded by state and federal money. The Mississippi program enrolls more than 640,000 in a state of about 3 million people.
Democrats say up to 300,000 more people could receive health coverage if the state expands Medicaid to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000 for one person. In Mississippi now, the income cutoff to enroll is about $5,500 for one person, and the state program does not cover many able-bodied adults, regardless of income.
Top Republicans — including Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn — said the state can't afford expansion, even with the federal government paying 100 percent of medical expenses for the newly qualified enrollees from 2014 to 2017. The federal share would be reduced to 90 percent by 2020, with each state paying the balance.
Bryant said frequently that he doesn't believe the federal government will fulfill its promises of future funding.
There were two bills that would've reauthorized the existence of Medicaid during the 2013 session. One was a House bill that could not have been amended to include Medicaid expansion because it didn't include the correct sections of state law. The other was a Senate bill that, in theory, could've been amended to include expansion. Both died as House Democrats insisted on having a vote on Medicaid expansion.
Gunn, of Clinton, said Thursday that it made no sense to vote on expansion because there weren't enough votes to pass it.
The House also voted twice on a single budget bill for Medicaid, and that bill failed both times.
Gunn told reporters Thursday that Democrats voted four times to kill Medicaid.
"They are playing political games with the lives of people who are on the program, and I do not think that is appropriate," Gunn said.