Dr. Dan Jones, the former chancellor of University of Mississippi, said on Thursday that Gov. Tate Reeves once privately acknowledged the benefits of Medicaid expansion. Publicly, however, Reeves has long resisted expansion. Credit: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today

Former University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones said that Gov. Tate Reeves once told him in a meeting that he understood how Medicaid expansion would benefit the state but couldn’t agree to champion it for political reasons.

Jones, who led the state’s largest hospital, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, before he served as chancellor from 2009-2015, divulged details of the 2013 or 2014 meeting during a Thursday press conference with Democratic legislative leaders about the Republican leadership’s inaction on addressing the state’s hospital crisis.

“A little while after I began explaining the benefits of Medicaid expansion, he (Reeves) put his hand up and said, ‘Chancellor, I recognize it would be good for Mississippians, good for our economy, good for health care if we expanded Medicaid,'” Jones recalled. “I had a big smile on my face and said, ‘I’m so glad to hear you’re going to support expansion.’ His response, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to support it because it’s not in my personal political interest.'”

The revelation about Reeves’ closed-door expression to Jones directly counters the governor’s long-held public stances. Reeves, who previously spent eight years as lieutenant governor and leader of the state Senate, has defiantly opposed Medicaid expansion for more than a decade. 

Even earlier this week, the governor tripled down on his opposition to expansion in a speech.

“Don’t simply cave under the pressure of Democrats and their allies in the media who are pushing for the expansion of Obamacare, welfare, and socialized medicine,” Reeves said during his annual State of the State address on Monday. “You have my word that if you stand up to the left’s push for endless government-run healthcare, I will stand with you.”

Reeves unleashed on Jones — and journalists — in a Twitter thread after stories about Jones’ claim published.

“This is obviously a lie,” Reeves tweeted on Thursday afternoon. “I’d bet I hadn’t talked to this dude since well before he was fired by Ole Miss, and I never would have said this … The liberal media will print a lie about me all day, so Democrat activists lie.”

Lawmakers, working in Jackson until early April, face growing pressure to address the state’s worsening hospital crisis. State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney warned them in December that 38 hospitals across the state are in danger of closing in the short-term because of budget concerns. Meanwhile, Mississippi has the highest percentage of uninsured residents who cannot afford health care, so hospitals often have to cover those care costs themselves.

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

One hospital funding solution that 39 other states — including many Republican-led states — have implemented is Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Economists estimate Mississippi would receive more than $1 billion per year in new revenue, and hospitals would benefit directly.

Meanwhile, public sentiment for Medicaid expansion is growing. A Mississippi Today/Siena College poll conducted in early January 2023 found that 80% of Mississippians, including 70% of Republicans, support expansion.

READ MOREPoll: 80% of Mississippians favor Medicaid expansion

Despite the growing popularity of the measure, Republicans who run state government have not budged. More than 15 different bills that would have expanded Medicaid — all filed by Democrats in early 2023 — died in committee earlier this week without receiving a vote or even a debate by Republican committee chairs. 

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn has been in lockstep with Reeves in his opposition of expansion, and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who has said in the past he is open to some version of expansion, has not made the issue a priority this session.

“The governor and the party he leads have deflected, distracted, and attempted to discredit the merits of programs that have made real, positive impacts on health outcomes in other states that have adopted them — some, even, just as red as Mississippi,” Rep. Robert Johnson, the Democratic House leader, said at the press conference on Thursday. “They’ve downplayed the severity of the crisis, not only diminishing just how dangerous the lack of access to care is becoming across our state, but ignoring the economic damage closing hospitals will cause in communities.”

In 2010, Congress adopted President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the Medicaid program that allowed states to opt into to draw down large amounts of federal funding to provide health coverage for mostly poor, working people.

One year later, then-state Treasurer Tate Reeves ran for his first term as lieutenant governor, and in 2015 ran for a second term. During Reeves’ first term is when, Jones said, the meeting occurred at the chancellor’s office in the Lyceum administrative building.

Jones, during the press conference on Thursday, said he was sharing details of the Reeves meeting now because the state’s hospital crisis has reached a critical point. In calling for immediate action from legislative leaders, Jones shared three imperatives to expand Medicaid: a moral one, an economic one, and a political one.

“Shame on us, shame on us, for allowing the citizens of Mississippi to have health care problems and not have access to health care solutions … it is immoral,” Jones said. “… It’s time for us to put the pressure on leaders of our state to move past the personal political interests and consider the interests of every Mississippian who needs access to health care.”

READ MORE: Mississippi leaving more than $1 billion per year on table by rejecting Medicaid expansion

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that Jones said the meeting occurred in 2013 or 2014.

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.