Gov. Tate Reeves, right, stands with his wife, Elee Reeves, as he answers questions from the media after signing qualifying paperwork to run for reelection at the Mississippi Republican Headquarters in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

GREENVILLE — Hours after yet another Mississippi hospital announced it was laying off workers this year, the leader of a hospital in the Mississippi Delta criticized Republican Gov. Tate Reeves for refusing to expand Medicaid access to the working poor. 

Iris Stacker, the CEO of Delta Health Systems in Greenville, spoke at a Tuesday campaign event for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley and said if the federal program covered more people, then the local economy would be more robust. 

“We don’t understand why Tate Reeves doesn’t understand why he needs a healthy workforce,” Stacker said. 

Hospitals across the state have recently slashed their staff, discontinued medical services or closed their doors permanently because of financial pressures within their organizations.

  • North Mississippi Health Services in Tupelo announced Tuesday it was laying off employees, cutting their hours and reassigning them to different jobs.
  • Ochsner Health, which operates several facilities in Mississippi, announced in May it was cutting hundreds of jobs.
  • Memorial Hospital in Gulfport announced layoffs just days before the Oschner announcement.
  • In June, St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson announced it was cutting 5.5% of its workforce and ending its behavioral health program.
  • KPC Promise, a hospital in Vicksburg, closed last month
  • And Delta Health, led by Stacker, last year closed its NICU unit, leaving the Delta region, one of the most impoverished areas in the nation, without a neonatal center.

One of the primary reasons Stacker and other hospital leaders support Medicaid expansion is their belief that it would reduce the amount of uncompensated care that medical workers provide to patients without health insurance. 

The 40 other U.S. states that have expanded Medicaid have seen a significant drop in uncompensated care costs post-expansion. Louisiana, which expanded Medicaid in 2016, saw a 55% decrease in uncompensated care costs for rural hospitals.

Last year, Delta Health spent about $26 million on uncompensated care, Stacker previously said. That amounts to about 15% of its total operating expenses. 

“We still continue to have uncompensated care every day,” Stacker told Mississippi Today on Tuesday. 

READ MORE: FAQ: What is Medicaid expansion, really?

The governor’s office and his campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but he has repeatedly objected to the program’s expansion, derisively calling it “welfare” or labeling it “Obamacare.” Instead, Reeves believes a law requiring medical facilities to seek approval from a state agency before they create a new health care center should be eliminated.

Meanwhile, Presley is strongly advocating for Medicaid expansion in his bid to unseat Reeves in November. More than a dozen health care professionals endorsed the Democratic candidate on Tuesday.

Mississippi is one of 10 states that has not passed any form of Medicaid expansion. Economic experts say the remaining states, many in the Deep South, would experience an economic boon if officials expanded the program. Studies show that Mississippi is leaving more than $1 billion in new health care related revenue on the table every year it does not expand.

Medical leaders have pleaded for state leaders to expand the program under the federal Affordable Care Act to draw down on additional funds. If the program were expanded, the federal government would likely cover 90% of the costs while the state contributed a 10% matching rate. 

Much like in 2019, Medicaid coverage and access to health care are some of the primary issues between the two leading candidates in this year’s governor’s race.

Attorney General Jim Hood embraced Medicaid expansion throughout the last statewide campaign cycle, but Reeves still captured nearly 52% of the general election vote. 

Presley, the current utility regulator from north Mississippi, is hoping the continuing spate of hospital closures will encourage more voters to be receptive to his pro-expansion message during the current election cycle. 

Dr. Brett Zepponi, a Delta Health physician, told Mississippi Today that he considers himself a fiscal conservative, but he’s currently planning to vote for Presley because he doesn’t think the Greenville hospital can last much longer without expanding Medicaid coverage. 

“For me, it doesn’t come down to a political thing,” Zepponi said. “But it’s more of a people thing. I think Republicans and Democrats both want their family to be taken care of and want their neighbors taken care of.” 

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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.