Mississippi House Democrats didn't quite get the Medicaid expansion they wanted, but are declaring victory in sort of getting a debate on the subject.
In the end, after a couple of attempts to expand ways for more citizens to receive health insurance coverage, a $841 million Medicaid appropriation bill passed overwhelmingly, 115-1.
After the Legislature adjourned this spring without renewing the existing Medicaid program, Gov. Phil Bryant called a special session this week for lawmakers to reauthorize and fund Medicaid in its current form.
Democrats repeatedly blocked efforts to reauthorize Medicaid to force a floor debate on the issue of growing the Medicaid rolls to include 330,000 more people.
Despite the narrow scope of Bryant's special session call that was limited to re-authorization and funding of the existing Medicaid program, House Democrats offered amendments to expand Medicaid. When the House debated House Bill 1, which establishes the Division of Medicaid, Democrats tried to amend the bill to create a state-based health-care exchange. The federal government rejected Mississippi's plan for an exchange, meaning that the feds will will create one on the state's behalf.
Democrats pointed out the irony of the Republican leadership's anti-Obamacare posture as reason for standing in the way of Medicaid expansion while an intra-party spat between Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney and Bryant forced the feds to take over the state's exchange.
Democrats implored their colleagues to support the health-exchange amendment. Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Jackson, got choked speaking about her single working mother who "no matter what would not let her health insurance go."
HB 1 passed on a party-line vote but is being held on a motion to reconsider. Later, lawmakers took up the second part of the governor's special session call, a bill to fund the Medicaid program. Democrats again attempted to amend the bill to expand Medicaid.
"These are people who through no fault of their own don't have health insurance," said Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello. "These aren't deadbeats."
Despite shutting down expansion discussion earlier in the session because it was not germane to the issue at hand, Speaker Philip Gunn allowed Democrats to speak in favor of expansion.
Despite being unsuccessful, House Democrats chalked the session up as a victory because their side was able to argue for Medicaid expansion.
The Senate also convened but took no substantive action, pending the outcome of votes in the House.