State Sen. Billy Hudson of Hattiesburg says he supports Medicaid expansion, making him the only state Republican to publicly buck Gov. Phil Bryant and the GOP legislative leadership on the issue.
But another Republican lawmaker from Hattiesburg says the issue “is not going away” and Medicaid expansion will have to be dealt with.
“I’m not leaning towards it — I’m going to vote for (expansion) if I have an opportunity to,” Hudson said Friday, after making similar comments to the Forrest County Board of Supervisors and the Hattiesburg American newspaper on Thursday.
Hudson said the Hattiesburg area has a vital medical industry that employs about 6,000 people, including Forrest General, one of the largest county-owned hospitals in the country. He said Mississippi refusing to accept federally funded expansion of Medicaid per the Affordable Care Act could result in the loss of uncompensated care reimbursement that would threaten the livelihood of state hospitals such as Forrest General.
Plus, he said, providing health care to about 300,000 of the state’s “working poor” who have no insurance coverage is the right thing to do.
“This is for people making in the $20,000 to $25,000 range, with a wife and kids, who can’t afford to buy insurance,” Hudson said. “This is a big thing for the county and the city of Hattiesburg, and that’s who I represent.”
But Bryant and other opponents of Medicaid expansion say the state’s share of expanding the already costly program will break the budget, resulting in tax increases or cuts to other programs. And Bryant says he doesn’t trust the federal government to provide all the billions of dollars in funding it promises for the expansion.
“I very seldom go against Gov. Bryant,” Hudson said. “But on this case, I respectfully disagree with him … 95 percent of the time I vote Republican, but I’ve got to vote my conscience and got to be able to look at myself in the mirror when I shave in the morning. I’ve given this a lot of thought and a lot of prayer.”
Hudson said he hopes Bryant calls lawmakers back in special session to end the current Medicaid standoff and hopes expansion of the program per the federal Affordable Care Act also comes up for a vote. If it does, Hudson said he suspects “there would be enough (Republicans) cross the line to pass it.”
“I don’t know that for sure, but I do think that,” Hudson said.
Republican State Rep. Toby Barker, also from Hattiesburg, on Friday said: “I think there should be a debate on Medicaid expansion. However, I do not think we should put the current program in jeopardy to force that debate at this moment.
“Eventually, we are going to have to deal with the expansion issue, up or down,” Barker said. “It’s not going away. For those of us with hospitals in our districts, this is a really important decision. The best things both sides can do right now is agree on a framework and a timeline in which to have that discussion, whether it’s now or seven months from now. No one wins if we incite fear and panic among the 600,000 enrollees and providers we have now.”