Speaker of the House Philip Gunn (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

More than 15 bills that would have expanded Medicaid to provide health care coverage to primarily the working poor died on Tuesday night without debate or a vote.

No committee chair in either the Senate or House held a hearing on those Medicaid expansion bills. The House Medicaid Committee, where Speaker of the House Philip Gunn assigned all of the his chamber’s expansion bills, did not even meet a single time before the Jan. 31 deadline to consider general bills.

READ MORE: ‘What’s your plan, watch Rome burn?’: Politicians continue to reject solution to growing hospital crisis

Legislative leaders killed the bills as a worsening hospital crisis grips the state and Mississippi continues to be among the unhealthiest states with the highest percentages of uninsured residents.

State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney told lawmakers in late 2022 that 38 hospitals across the state are in danger of closing, and all are facing financial hardships. Physicians and hospital leaders have said expanding Medicaid, which would result in more than $1 billion annually in additional federal health care dollars coming to the state, would help hospitals pay their bills. Beyond just helping hospitals, expanding Medicaid would provide health care coverage to many more Mississippians — up to 300,000, according to some studies.

But many in the Republican leadership of the state, primarily Gunn and Gov. Tate Reeves, have been adamant in their opposition to expanding Medicaid as 39 other states have done, including many led by Republican politicians.

Meanwhile, data shows that support for Medicaid expansion is growing among voters. A Mississippi Today/Siena College poll conducted in early January indicated that the vast majority of the general public, including 70% of Republican voters, favor expansion.

READ MORE: Poll: 80% of Mississippians favor Medicaid expansion

Rep. Robert Johnson, the House Democratic leader from Natchez, said the death of the bills this week was disappointing but not surprising.

Referring to Gov. Reeves’ State of the State speech earlier this week, Johnson pointed out that he spoke of health care alternatives rather than focusing on solutions for hospitals. Those could include stand-alone surgery centers, telemedicine and other alternatives.

“It seems he is talking about providing health care for selected people,” Johnson said, referring to those who would have health care alternatives that often require some type of insurance — either private or public like Medicaid.

While the Medicaid bills died, still alive is a more modest proposal to provide coverage for new mothers on Medicaid for a year instead of the current 60 days. The Senate is expected to pass the bill in the coming days and send it to the House for consideration.

Last year the Senate passed the bill to lengthen postpartum care from 60 days to one year, but it died in the House in large part because of opposition from Gunn and his health care leadership team, Public Health Chair Rep. Sam Mims of McComb and Medicaid Committee Chair Rep. Joey Hood of Ackerman.

While the Medicaid expansion bills all died, Johnson said there might be legislation that is alive where amendments could be offered to expand Medicaid.

“We will be vigilant in looking for every opportunity we can find to offer amendments to expand Medicaid and to provide needed money to hospitals in the short term,” Johnson said. “We have been here a month now and have not addressed that issue.”

READ MORE: Key bills — including Medicaid expansion — to watch in the 2023 Mississippi legislative session

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.