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Hosemann: State should provide insurance for working people - Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — One of Mississippi’s top legislative leaders said Tuesday that the state should provide health insurance for working people, but sharply rebuffed a question about expanding Medicaid.

Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said that instead of “talking about some nomenclature that’s three presidents ago,” lawmakers should be looking at how real people are being impacted by lack of insurance in the nation’s poorest state.

“What does that mean? What is the expansion of Medicaid? That is a lazy question,” he said to a reporter who asked him about his thoughts on expanding Medicaid — something 38 states have done — during a news conference on the first day of the legislative session. “What you need to be thinking about is how we are going to cover people that are working in Mississippi that have catastrophic illnesses. That’s the real question.”

Hosemann said lawmakers are drafting a proposal that would bring health insurance to working people in Mississippi, but said it’s too early to provide details on what format that plan would take. When asked whether a proposal could be presented this session, Hosemann said it would be made “as soon as we can do it.”

Medicaid is a health insurance program for the needy, aged, blind and disabled. It is paid by federal and state money. Mississippi has about 3 million residents, and Medicaid already covers more than 763,500 people, about 25% of the population.

But Mississippi is one of 12 states — all of whom have GOP-controlled legislatures — that have not approved expanding Medicaid coverage to the working poor, which is an option under the Affordable Care Act that was signed into law in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama.

During a separate news conference Tuesday, House Speaker Philip Gunn said he doesn’t support expanding Medicaid and that it’s not a realistic plan in Mississippi.

“I don’t see that as a way forward in Mississippi,” he said. “We need to be looking at ways to get people off Medicaid, not put them on Medicaid.”

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and his Republican predecessor, Phil Bryant, have said they believe Mississippi cannot afford to put more people on the program, even with the federal government paying for most of the tab.

Hosemann said he often hears stories from Mississippi residents who have been impacted by a lack of coverage. On Tuesday, he spoke about a woman in Greenwood who worked at Dollar General and didn’t go to the doctor because she was without health insurance. She later found out she had cancer and died, leaving behind a husband and children.

“That’s happening in Mississippi for working people,” he said.

Republican Sen. Chad McMahan of Guntown said he thinks lawmakers should at the very least hold hearings on Medicaid expansion and study what a Mississippi proposal could look like. The state is missing out on $1 billion a year that could revitalize rural hospitals that have closed or are at risk of closing, he said.

McMahan said his family didn’t have health insurance when he was growing up. When he was a teenager, he was hurt and they were saddled with a $21,000 hospital bill. His father and mother, a carpenter and clerk, spent years paying it off.

“I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to not have health care coverage,” he said. “It’s a scary thing.”

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Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.