Coalition of 36 organizations pushes lawmakers for Medicaid expansion in Mississippi
Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2024
As Medicaid expansion remains a top political issue in Mississippi — and sure to be debated this legislative session — one group will be advocating for the policy on the front lines.
Care4Mississippi is a coalition of 36 partner organizations, and growing, focused on getting Medicaid expanded in Mississippi.
Co-chair Kimberly Hughes, who’s also the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s government relations director, says this is the first time the coalition will be “active” during the legislative session, but the work on this issue began years ago.
Many of the coalition’s current partners were part of the Yes on 76 campaign, which was a statewide effort to get expansion of Medicaid on the 2022 ballot through the state’s ballot-initiative process.
However, the campaign was suspended in May 2021 after the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the state’s initiative process was invalid. Since then, efforts to reinstate it have failed.
There is currently no ballot initiative process in Mississippi, which is meant to allow citizens to circumvent politicians and place an issue on a statewide ballot for voter consideration.
Yes on 76 stakeholders took a few months off, Hughes said, before convening to create Care4Mississippi in 2022.
“We’ve tried to keep the issue alive and keep partners engaged, especially after we had to change our plans to more of a legislative campaign,” Hughes said.
The organization was less active in 2023 because it was an election year, she said, and focused its efforts on recruiting partners. It appeared many people were waiting to see who won the gubernatorial election, in which incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves bested his pro-expansion Democratic opponent Brandon Presley, before deciding to get involved with the coalition, Hughes said.
Since the coalition spent the past year preparing for this legislative session, it’s coming armed with a trove of information on Medicaid expansion.
“We want to be that clearinghouse for information,” she said. “There’s momentum around this issue, in the public and the press and with some of our lawmakers, so we’ve been trying to get ready for that.”
The coalition’s website already features resources for people who want to learn more, including national and state research that underlines the policy’s benefits for Mississippi, as well as a data map created by the coalition that shows how Medicaid expansion would impact every county in Mississippi.
Researchers estimate somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 Mississippians currently fall in Medicaid’s coverage gap — they make too much to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford insurance on their own — and would be insured if the policy was expanded to the working poor as most other states have done.
Coalition leaders say information is essential to dispelling myths about expansion perpetuated by state officials and empowering Mississippians to advocate for the policy.
Reeves remains a staunch opponent and has referred to expanding Medicaid health coverage as adding more people to the state’s welfare rolls.
“We want to be a credible center voice on the issue of creating a solution or covering those who have no affordable option for health insurance,” said Blair Ewing, the coalition’s program coordinator and lobbyist. “We want to challenge our leaders to work together to find solutions, stop hospital closures and create access to care for Mississippi families.”
Moving forward, Ewing said the coalition’s strategy will revolve around recruiting more partners and getting the word out as much as possible, which will include hosting a “Capitol Day” on Feb. 22. The coalition will have a table in the State Capitol’s rotunda to educate passersby about expansion and host a press event on the Capitol steps.
Hughes is hopeful about movement on expansion in Mississippi during this year’s legislative session, especially since new Speaker of the House Jason White says the House will at least consider the policy. His predecessor, Phillip Gunn, was an outspoken opponent and prevented the full House from voting on it during his tenure.
Ewing said that getting the policy passed starts with arming people with the information they need and stressed that anyone, organization or individual, can join on the coalition’s website. Some of its current members include the heavily involved Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, as well as the Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Hospital Association, American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, Center for Mississippi Health Policy and American Heart Association.
“I think if constituents knew more, if there was more information out there and they actually started going to their congressman about it, then things would change,” she said. “There’s an unbelievable amount of support in the state for closing that Medicaid coverage gap — we know people want our legislators to do something about it.”
Devna Bose, Mississippi Today