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

An overwhelming majority of Mississippians are concerned about the state’s hospital crisis, and voters by a large margin favor Medicaid expansion to provide health care for the working poor.

A new Mississippi Today/Siena College poll shows 92% of likely voters surveyed are concerned about the hospital crisis, with 70% saying they are “very concerned.”

Expansion of Medicaid — one widely proposed solution to the hospital crisis — is favored by 72%, opposed by 23%, with 5% not answering.

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.

A recently updated study shows nearly half of the rural hospitals in Mississippi — a poor, unhealthy state already lacking in health care — are struggling financially and at risk of closure. Most medical and hospital officials in the state favor expanding the state-federal Medicaid program, using federal money to provide health care to the working poor and help flagging hospitals cover uncompensated care.

READ MORE: At least three Mississippi hospitals aim to end inpatient services, convert to rural emergency status

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley’s campaign has focused on the hospital crisis and expanding Medicaid as a key plank in his platform.

Incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has given conflicting answers to whether he believes the state’s hospital and health care crisis is a serious campaign issue this year, and he opposes Medicaid expansion. Reeves and other state GOP leaders have blocked Medicaid expansion, equating it to welfare, for the last decade as most other states adopted it and as support for it has grown among Mississippi Republicans.

Yet when respondents of the recently released poll were asked whether Reeves or Presley “will do a better job addressing the Mississippi hospital crisis,” the two candidates were tied at 44% each.

Mississippi Today asked Reeves at the Neshoba County Fair in late July what his reaction was to hospitals and medical facilities laying off employees. The governor chuckled, didn’t substantively respond and brushed off the question. 

But minutes later, asked a similar question, Reeves said: “We’ve got to have more availability of health care throughout our state, we’ve got to have more accessibility to health care throughout our state and we’ve got to make sure that we can make health care more affordable throughout our state.”

Reeves has adamantly opposed Medicaid expansion for years. He said solutions to the state’s health care woes include providing Mississippians with better jobs and allowing more free-market competition in medical services in the state. Reeves said he wants lawmakers to remove regulations on hospitals.

Presley recently said of Reeves: “Where have you been for 12 years? 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?”

Forty states have expanded Medicaid. Expansion has been blocked in Mississippi primarily by Reeves and outgoing House Speaker Philip Gunn.

At times Presley has said he will expand Medicaid on his first day in office. But that would not be possible and it is questionable about whether he could do it under any circumstance without legislative approval. In recent days, Presley has said “on day one I will take action to expand Medicaid and save our hospitals.”

Speaking to a legislative panel recently, Republican Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said, “We’re going to have some very severe problems within the very near future. I’m talking about in six to 24 months, we’re gonna have some hospitals that close.”

Chaney told legislators his office is contracting with a group to study the issue and offer possible solutions.

Mississippi Today/Siena College polling has tracked support for Medicaid expansion since early 2023. Some results:

January 8-12: 80% support, 70% of Republicans support

March 6-8: 75% support, 59% Republicans support

April 16-20: 60% support, 52% of Republicans

June 4-7 (likely GOP primary voters only): 52% support, 35% oppose, 13% not sure

The Mississippi Today/Siena College Research Institute poll of 650 registered voters was conducted August 20-28, 2023, and has an overall margin of error of +/- 4.0 percentage points. Siena has an ‘A’ rating in FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of pollsters.

Click here for complete methodology and crosstabs relevant to this story.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.

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.