A hallway remains empty in a closed area of the Delta Health System in Greenville, Miss., Tuesday, February 14, 2022. Credit: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today

As candidates for state offices begin to make their campaign pitches to voters, a new Mississippi Today/Siena College poll shows that a vast majority of Mississippians across partisan and demographic lines still support expanding Medicaid access to the working poor.

The poll conducted on April 16-20 shows that 66% of Mississippians — including 82% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans — support “lawmakers voting to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid” coverage. 

Only 22% of respondents said they were opposed to the policy, and 11% said they did not know enough information about the issue. 

Editor’s note: Poll methodology and crosstabs can be found at the bottom of this story. Click here to read more about our partnership with Siena College Research Institute.

Despite repeated data showing Mississippians across the state support the policy, the state’s Republican leadership has consistently rejected expanding coverage under the Affordable Care Act. 

The GOP-dominated leadership in the state Legislature earlier this year killed all efforts to expand the federal insurance program to more people and even cut off debate from Democratic lawmakers over the topic. 

And the policy debate over expansion is already starting to form as a key wedge issue during the 2023 gubernatorial election. 

Brandon Presley, the Democratic candidate for governor, has made expanding Medicaid a core component of his campaign and has repeatedly cast incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves as a hypocrite for espousing pro-life values and opting not to expand Medicaid.

“We’ve turned back billions of dollars in Mississippi,” he said in an April 19 press release. “Not because of policy. The only reason we’ve turned down federal dollars for health care in Mississippi is petty, partisan, cheap politics.”

Reeves, the Republican running for reelection, at a recent press conference doubled down on his stance that he is opposed to the policy, which he often derisively refers to as “Obamacare.” 

“I have not changed my position on the expansion of Obamacare,” Reeves said. “Adding 300,000 additional people to welfare in our state is not the right path for Mississippi.”

READ MOREGovernor’s race poll: Brandon Presley slips, Gov. Tate Reeves remains unpopular

Evidence shows that if state leaders would expand the insurance program to the working poor, it would economically benefit the state. 

Mississippi’s state economist, employed by the state’s public university system, published a 2021 report concluding that if Mississippi put up the money for the 10% match, the benefits it received would more than cover the initial match.

“Based on our estimates of the costs and savings associated with Medicaid expansion, Mississippi could enter Medicaid expansion in 2022 and incur little to no additional expenditures for at least the first decade of expansion,” the report said.

Over one-third of Mississippi’s rural hospitals are at risk of immediate closure soon, according to a report, and some hospitals have recently shuttered critical patient services. 

READ MORE: Poll shows Mississippians strongly favor Presley’s ideas but he still trails in governor’s race

Given the financial struggle of rural hospitals, some voters are openly wondering if the crisis will have a ripple effect that trickles down into their communities.

Estella Cox-Williamson, a Grenada County resident who attended a recent campaign event for Presley, said access to health care in Grenada was one of her main issues she wants statewide candidates to address this election cycle.

“Really, I just want a governor who will actually produce results this time,” she said. “And that includes health care.”

The Mississippi Today/Siena College Research Institute poll of 783 registered voters was conducted April 16-20 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points. Siena has an ‘A’ rating in FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of pollsters.

Click here for crosstabs and methodology relevant to this story.

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Taylor, a native of Grenada, covers state government and statewide elections. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and Holmes Community College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Taylor reported on state and local government for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, where he received an award for his coverage of the federal government’s lawsuit against the state’s mental health system.