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by Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The House Medicaid Committee will hold a hearing today on the contentious issue of Medicaid expansion.

The decision to allow the hearing is viewed “as a symbolic gesture” toward the minority Democratic Party that supports Medicaid expansion.

“I think it is more or less symbolic – to try to satisfy those of us saying we are not getting to debate the issue,” said Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, a member of the Medicaid Committee.

Buck said he will participate in the 1 p.m. hearing at the Capitol, but “I don’t think it will change things as it relates to a bill to allow for Medicaid expansion.”

“Hopefully both sides will be able to disseminate their information,” said House Medicaid Chair Bobby Howell, R-Kilmachael. “I think the hearing will be balanced.”

States have the option under the federal Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid to cover those earning up to 138 of the federal poverty level or about $15,000 annually for an individual or about $34,000 per year for a family of four.

Thus far Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, an opponent of expansion, has blocked all efforts for an up or down vote on the floor of the House on Medicaid expansion. But in doing so legislation to re-authorize the Division of Medicaid for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, has been killed.

The committee will hear from Lucien Smith, Gov. Phil Bryant’s chief of staff, from Medicaid Executive Director David Dzielak and from a representative from the Foundation for Government Accountability, a national conservative nonpartisan group that opposes the federal law and expansion.

Bryant has been adamant in his opposition to expansion.

Spokesman Mick Bullock said, “Gov. Bryant stands by his position that expanding a program with serious problems is a bad deal for Mississippi.”

The Committee also will hear from Theresa Hannah, executive director of the Center for Mississippi Health Policy, which has advocated in favor of expansion, state Economist Darrin Webb and state Senior Economist Bob Neal, who authored a study on the impact of the expansion in the state.

The study by the Institutions of Higher Learning projects the Medicaid expansion will create 9,000 jobs in the state.

Gary Marchand, chief executive officer of Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, also is scheduled to speak to the Committee. Many of the state’s hospitals have said that if the state does not participate in the expansion, they could be placed in jeopardy.

Mississippi hospitals currently receive more than $210 million annually in federal funds that cover the cost of about 40 percent of the uncompensated care they deliver. Under the federal law, those payments are supposed to be phased out under the assumption people would have coverage through the Affordable Care Act and hospitals would be treating far fewer people with no insurance. Federal officials are expected to make a ruling later this year on if and how those funds will be phased out. Bryant has said he plans to sue if the funds to hospitals are reduced.

It is estimated that through an expansion about 300,000 Mississippians would be added to the Medicaid rolls. Currently in Mississippi about 640,000 people are covered, primarily poor pregnant women and poor children, the elderly and disabled.

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