FLOWOOD — As hospitals around the state continue to bleed out critical health care services, Mississippi’s two leading candidates for governor shared different visions with the Mississippi Press Association Friday on how to stop the hemorrhaging. 

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves called on state lawmakers to abolish certain hospital regulations, while Democratic candidate Brandon Presley continued to push legislators to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor. 

Since the two candidates have started campaigning for governor, the state’s hospital crisis has worsened. St. Dominic Memorial Hospital in Jackson laid off over 5% of its workforce and eliminated its mental health services, and Memorial Hospital in Gulfport cut 2% of its employees. 

A third of Mississippi’s rural hospitals are also at risk of closure within the near future, according to a recent report from the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform.

READ MORE: Patients, advocates worry more people will end up in jail or without treatment following St. Dominic behavioral health closure

Reeves, who is running for a second four-year term, advocated for abolishing the state’s certificate of need laws, or CON laws, because he believes it will cause more innovative medical services to emerge in the Magnolia State. 

“By reforming Mississippi’s certificate of need laws, we can root out anticompetitive behavior that blocks the formation of medical facilities and prevents the delivery of life saving healthcare for our fellow Mississippians,” Reeves said.

CON laws require medical facilities to seek approval from the state Health Department before they create a new health care center or expand an existing facility’s services in a specific area. 

Republican legislators have filed bills to do away with such laws, but they have never gained any major momentum at the Capitol. 

The first-term governor also said he supported establishing more medical residency programs outside of the capital city to address physician shortages and dismissed Medicaid expansion as a viable solution. 

“I don’t think the answer to our biggest issues, however, is massively expanding welfare,” Reeves said of Medicaid expansion. 

Presley, the current utilities regulator in north Mississippi, dismissed the idea that Medicaid expansion is welfare and declared the main reason the governor has opposed increased Medicaid coverage is because of “cheap, petty politics.” 

“It is ridiculous to think that giving 230,000 working people health care because they’re working is somehow welfare,” Presley said. “That’s ridiculous. That’s just totally ridiculous.” 

One of the Democratic candidate’s core platforms is to expand the program to more people because he believes it will allow hospitals to reduce the money they lose from uncompensated care. 

The federal government would cover the bulk of the expanded program, and the state would likely provide 10% in matching funds. The state economist published a report concluding that the revenue the state collected from the program would cover the increased cost of matching funds.

Presley said he was open to cutting or reforming Mississippi’s CON laws, but openly questioned why Reeves had not implemented the policy while he served as lieutenant governor, the leader of the state Senate, for eight years. 

“Where have you been for 12 years?” Presley said about Reeves. “You were lieutenant governor for eight. You’ve been governor for four. If all of these ideas were great, why haven’t you gotten them done, partner?”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, the two main candidates competing in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, also shared their primary proposals to the press association. 

McDaniel advocated for abolishing the state income tax and reducing the sales tax on groceries. 

Hosemann praised his past efforts to reduce the size of government, while leading efforts to spend tax dollars on teacher pay raises and new infrastructure projects. 

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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.