One of the main complaints of Republicans opposed to the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan heading toward enactment is that about half of the spending has little to do with the deadly virus.
In that basket of excess they would put the extra incentive President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats have fashioned to entice Mississippi and the other 11 holdout states to expand Medicaid to the working poor.
Although it’s a legitimate criticism of what is about to be the third major stimulus bill passed by Congress during the pandemic, Mississippi would be insane to not take advantage of the coming offer and do what it should have done a decade ago.
The latest deal would be even better for this state than the exceedingly generous original one.
Back then, the federal government said it would pay 100% of the benefit costs for the first three years of the expansion, gradually scaling back to 90%, which is where it is now for the participating states. For Mississippi, that 10% difference would have equated to somewhere around $100 million a year.
The new deal would stick to the 90% federal match on the new tier of enrollees, but the state would get an extra 5% bump for two years on the federal cost share for traditional Medicaid. Mississippi already gets the most generous match in the country for traditional Medicaid, and this add-on would put it at around 90% as well. State Sen. Hob Bryan, the Democratic chair of the Public Health Committee and a proponent of Medicaid expansion, says the 5% bump would translate into about $300 million a year.
“For a number of years, the federal government has been offering us $1 million a day to take care of sick people,” Bryan told Mississippi Today. “Now they are offering $1 million a day to take that other $1 million a day.”
As incredible as that sounds, Bryan is actually underestimating how absurdly good the deal is. It’s more like the government is offering $1 million a day to take $3 million a day that was already on the table.
Mississippi has been passing on about $1 billion a year in new federal health-care spending. The new incentive would add around 30% more than that for the first two years. Think of how much good that kind of money would do this state in terms of generating economic activity and jobs, shoring up financially troubled hospitals and helping working people who can’t make enough to afford private health insurance but make too much to be eligible for traditional Medicaid.
Mississippi should jump at the offer. Instead, with Republican Gov. Tate Reeves firmly opposed to expansion, and with the Republican majorities in the Legislature following suit, about the most the GOP leadership says it is willing to do is study the prospect some more and take it up again in 2022.
In the entire history of Mississippi’s economic development efforts, it’s unlikely that there has ever been another investment of state dollars that has produced a guaranteed return like this: 12-to-1 in the first two years, and 9-to-1 after that. If it were a private company offering such a bargain, the state would write the check tomorrow.
Only because Medicaid expansion started with a Democratic president, Barack Obama, and is being pushed by another Democratic president, Joe Biden, does Mississippi balk. The state is putting its politics ahead of its brain.
If it stubbornly continues to do so, that brain needs a thorough examination.
Tim Kalich is the Editor and Publisher of the Greenwood Commonwealth. You can Email Mr. Kalich at email@example.com or call him at 662-453-5312.