The Republican Party, nationally and in Mississippi, has made sport of repudiating the federal health-care law. Since the Affordable Care Act passed and President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2010, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have attempted to repeal the law more than three dozen times.
Lawmakers in Mississippi have made similar attempts, although most of the bills proffered never survived the committee process. Opposition to what Republicans call Obamacare is also the reason lawmakers have not reauthorized Medicaid or debated the merits of expanding the program in the state.
Quietly, though, Republicans are looking for ways to accept parts of the federal law. On June 5, The Nation magazine published letters from officials who opposed ACA but are seeking grant funds from the health law.
Those lawmakers include two Mississippi congressmen: Sen. Thad Cochran and Rep. Gregg Harper. Both lawmakers voted against the health-care law; however, in separate letters dated in the fall of 2011, Cochran and Harper each asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide Capital Development Building Capacity Grants to Family Health Care Clinic Inc., a local company that runs rural health clinics in Mississippi and Alabama. The company lists a Jackson post office box as one of its contact addresses--the other is in Pearl--but it does not have a clinic in the capital city.
The ACA law created Capital Development Building Capacity Grants to construct and expand health centers to accommodate up to 860,000 patients nationwide. Bryant has also said he would like to provide more grants to federally qualified health centers as an alternative to Medicaid expansion.
In the meantime, Mississippi Democrats continue to extend olive branches to find ways to accept federal Medicaid money and increase the number of people in the state who can take advantage of the program.
Democrats, who are in the minority in both legislative chambers in Mississippi, want to implement a compromise plan that would increase access to health care to people who do not currently have it without expanding Medicaid. The plan is modeled on one in Arkansas, where the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic governor were at an impasse over Medicaid expansion.
Under a plan called the Mississippi Market Based Health Insurance Coverage Plan, instead of the federal government paying the state to expand Medicaid, the funds would go directly to individuals for purchasing health insurance on state-run exchanges.
"It's a compromise," Democratic Jackson state Rep. Cecil Brown said.
The plan is the latest in a series of compromises Democrats have offered Republicans on Medicaid. During the recent legislative session, House Democrats called for a debate on Medicaid expansion and said they would accept the outcome of an up-or-down vote. Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, refused to allow debate to take place and, in response, Democrats refused to reauthorize the existing Medicaid program, which expires June 30.
Since the legislative session ended, and in anticipation of Bryant's calling a special session, health-care justice activists have engaged in an aggressive public-outreach campaign to explain the benefits of Medicaid expansion to Mississippians.
Rims Barber, a civil-rights veteran and lobbyist, said he would prefer Medicaid expansion to the Arkansas compromise but considers it a good place to start.
"If this is what you have to do to get some help for our people, let's start with this," Barber said.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said the Democrats' newest proposal represents an effort to meet Republicans on middle ground.
"All the governor has done is hold a press conference and say he disagrees with President Obama and the health-care law," Bryan said. "The governor has no plan."