Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion in Mississippi has not been based on reason or economics, much less human compassion. It’s been based on a political calculus that, when it comes to Democratic policies forged in Washington, particularly those closely associated with current and former Democratic presidents, the majority of Mississippi voters will cut off their nose to spite their face.
But public opinion changes, and it appears to be changing significantly on whether Mississippi should get on board — as 39 others states have done — and expand Medicaid to cover the working poor.
Mississippi Today has released this week the results of a survey it conducted with a reputable polling firm, Siena College Research Institute. It found that 80% of the respondents — including 70% of Republicans — say they either strongly or somewhat support Medicaid expansion.
That jives with an admittedly less scientific but still illustrative online poll conducted by Emmerich Newspapers, of which the Commonwealth is one. Out of almost 1,600 responses, 83% indicated their support for Medicaid expansion.
Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn fail to grasp this. They refuse to recognize what a bipartisan majority in this state apparently does see: namely, that it is ridiculous for the poorest, unhealthiest state in the nation — one enmeshed in a hospital crisis that is threatening the existence of more than half of its rural hospitals — to continue to reject the federal money that would help address all of these problems.
Of course, Medicaid expansion won’t by itself solve this state’s poverty, cure all of its medical maladies or ensure the solvency of financially struggling hospitals, such as Greenwood’s, but it could move the state in the right direction on all of those fronts. A billion dollars a year from the federal government — at which Reeves, Gunn and Company have been thumbing their noses — would make it possible for more than 200,000 Mississippians to have health insurance who currently don’t receive the benefit where they work and who can’t afford to buy it. It would lighten the burden of uncompensated care under which many hospitals, especially those in rural areas, are struggling. It would create thousands of jobs — some estimates have put it in the tens of thousands — in the health-care field.
It is such a good deal that more than three-fourths of the states have signed on, all of which are doing better financially than is Mississippi.
Despite all of the justifications to expand Medicaid, still few observers of the Capitol — even those Republicans who are open to Medicaid expansion — expect the Legislature to budge this year. The GOP has so demonized Obamacare, which made Medicaid expansion possible, that Republican lawmakers believe it would be more politically risky to change course in this election year than it is to remain stiff-necked in opposition.
These latest poll results suggest that may be a huge miscalculation.
Gunn is not running for reelection, but many of his fellow GOP lawmakers are. So is Reeves. If they are out of touch with the people’s will on this, they could pay for it come Election Day.