Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, left, answers a question from Rep. John Faulkner, D-Holly Springs, at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The House Republican majority rejected a Medicaid expansion amendment on the floor Wednesday that supporters said would aid the state’s struggling hospitals.

The amendment, offered Wednesday by House Minority Leader Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, would have prevented the appropriation for the Mississippi Division of Medicaid from going into effect until Medicaid was expanded to provide health care coverage for the working poor.

The amendment was supported by 41 Democrats and one independent. Five Republicans and one independent did not vote.

READ MOREPoll: 80% of Mississippians favor Medicaid expansion

Since the vote was on the budget for the Division of Medicaid, Democrats could not offer an amendment mandating the expansion of Medicaid. Instead, under provisions of the Mississippi Constitution, only conditions can be placed on budget bills, such as the money cannot be appropriated to the agency until Medicaid is expanded.

The Johnson amendment also would have mandated that the Division of Medicaid could not be funded until funds were committed:

  • For neonatal intensive care in the Delta.
  • To prevent the closure of hospitals in immediate danger of closing.
  • To restore services for a burn center in Hinds County.

Johnson told his colleagues that in the past few days, his mother had to be rushed to the hospital late at night.

“What I was thankful for is that a brick-and-mortar hospitals with doctors and nurses were right there in Adams County,” Johnson said, adding his mother is recovering. He said that there are areas in the state where health care is not as accessible. Citing reports that 28 hospitals or more in Mississippi are on the brink of closure, Johnson said there could be more areas in the state where health care would not be as readily accessible.

“This is the hill I am going to die on this session,” said Johnson. “It is the hill I am going to stay on … It is a matter of life and death.”

Thirty-nine states have approved the expansion of Medicaid with another, North Carolina, currently debating the issue in its legislature.

The Mississippi Hospital Association and many state health care groups have advocated Medicaid expansion as a method to help struggling hospitals and to provide health insurance to primarily the working poor in the state.

Republican leaders — primarily House Speaker Philip Gunn and Gov. Tate Reeves — have staunchly opposed expansion, describing it as a welfare program. Plus, they claim the state cannot afford to pay for the expansion.

But multiple studies have concluded that in Mississippi, Medicaid expansion, with the federal government paying the bulk of the cost, would be a boon to both the state economy and state coffers.

READ MOREMississippi leaving more than $1 billion per year on table by rejecting Medicaid expansion

Democrats continually pressed Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, who handled the budget bill Wednesday and chairs the Medicaid Committee, about Republicans’ plan to address the health care crisis in the state. They said the crisis included the poor health condition of many of the state citizens, who lack insurance, and the financial crunch facing many hospitals.

Hood repeatedly said the leadership is continuing to work on a possible solution.

“We are going to do what we can to help Mississippi hospitals,” Hood said, indicating that the leadership might propose state grants for hospitals instead of pulling down federal funds through Medicaid expansion.

The legislative leadership is just beginning the process of passing a budget to fund state government for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1. The more than 100 budget bills being passed this week in both the House and Senate are nothing close to the final product that the membership will be asked to vote on during the final days of the session.

Democrats said their votes on Wednesday were opportunities for rank-and-file House members to provide input in the budgeting process. But the members of the House majority rejected those pleas, opting to not buck their leaders, who ultimately will make the final decision just before the session ends in late March.

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

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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.