The U.S. Senate has yet to vote on a bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The vote was scheduled for the week before the 4th of July holiday, but was postponed due to the lack of votes.
Controversy has surrounded the bill, which has passed the U.S. House, because it could roll back the expansion of Medicaid.
While Medicaid has not been expanded in the Magnolia State, more cuts to the program could be detrimental, according to Mississippi lawmakers.
“It would have a devastating impact,” said Rep. Steve Holland of District 16, representing Lee and Monroe counties. “The entire medical foundation of this state relies on Medicaid.”
Holland said Medicaid makes all the difference in Mississippi as to whether or not private clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes in the state are profitable or not.
“You take Medicaid away from University Hospital (UMMC), from North Mississippi Medical Center, from hospitals on the Coast, from Forrest General, on and on,” said Holland. “And you’ll see them collapse on day one…to my knowledge, the only area of healthcare that doesn’t take Medicaid in Mississippi is plastic surgery, because it is elective surgery,” said Holland.
The Representative added that cuts to Medicaid would deal a devastating blow to what is already a “hot water” situation with the state’s mental health care system.
“It is absolutely preposterous what is happening with mental health in Mississippi,” said Holland. “About seven-eighths of the mental health patients in this state don’t seek out the private mental health treatment, they rely on the Department of Mental Health… the portion of the mental health budget ran by Medicaid is significant.”
Holland said Medicaid provides for a lot of the services within mental health in Mississippi, including community clinics and outpatient treatment programs.
“It would have the most devastating impact on the Medicaid budget in the state of Mississippi, moreso than on any other budget that could be whacked, aside from public education,” Holland said.
Senator Hob Bryan, representing District 7 comprised of Lee, Itawamba, and Monroe counties, said the issue goes far and above Medicaid itself, and could greatly impact the economy of the state as a whole.
“We get more federal match from Medicaid than any other state in the country. For Medicaid dollars spent, the feds match 75 cents to our 25,” said Bryan. “And for a portion of that 25, we have taxes and fees on health care that take care of that 25.”
Bryan said for money spent on healthcare, you also get the added effect of money being spent within the state’s economy.
“Some of that money that is spent, there’s sales tax,” said Bryan. “So the state is really only spending about 10 cents on the dollar for healthcare.”
But Bryan said more Medicaid cuts could lead to less spent on healthcare in the state, which in turn, means less going into the general fund.
“Aside from that, if I’m sick and I rely on Medicaid, and you change the eligibility and I no longer qualify, I’m still sick. What are my options then?” said Bryan. “I’ll go to the emergency room, or charity services, and that costs will just be translated to the taxpayer.”
The senator also discussed that Medicaid cuts would dwindle down health care accessibility in rural areas of Mississippi, where accessibility may also be lacking.
“Look at the nursing homes, where Medicaid covers a majority of the costs,” said Bryan. “I could have all the money in the world, but have live in a town of 3,000. Mama may not have money, and I may have to pay for her to be in the nursing home. Except now, with Medicaid cuts, Mama’s not in the local home where I can swing by on my way home from work, she’s an hour away in a town of 30,000, because that’s where the nursing homes have had to relocate to stay in operation.”
While there’s no date set yet for the Senate’s vote on the healthcare replacement plan, State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney has said that minds would need to be changed in order to get it passed.
“They may not pass it as written,” said Chaney. “They may have to come off the Medicaid cuts. If it passes as written, we could be okay for a few years, because we didn’t expand Medicaid.”
Chaney said the danger comes with what could happen later.
“But if the federal government comes back and says ‘we need you to pay 15 percent more for Medicaid,” said Chaney. “Then we’d have a problem.”
The commissioner believes a vote may not come until August.