Gov. Tate Reeves announces his plans for a series of Medicaid reimbursement reforms during a press conference at the Walter Sillers Building in Jackson, Miss., on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Galloway United Methodist, the downtown Jackson church where incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves is a member, will host a series of lectures on how providing access to health care is a Christian value.

The featured speakers in late October are expected to tout Medicaid expansion, a federal-state program that would provide health care coverage to an estimated 300,000 poor, working Mississippians. Reeves, serving in two of the state’s top leadership roles for the past 12 years, has adamantly opposed the program, disparagingly likening it to “welfare expansion.”

That’s clearly not how the governor’s pastor sees it.

“Obviously, with a topic like ours, the issue of Medicaid expansion looms large,” Galloway Senior Pastor Cary Stockett said in an email to reporters announcing the lectures. “And I believe each of our speakers are in favor of Medicaid expansion. We do not look to it as a panacea, nor do we wish these conversations revolve around the legislative football that subject has become.

“So, while we will not avoid mention of Medicaid expansion, our purpose is to bring people of faith to see good healthcare as a corollary of Jesus’ command, to love your neighbor as yourself,” Stockett continued. “We want it understood that this is a kingdom of God issue, grossly ignored right in the middle of the Bible Belt. We want the people who quote John 3:16 to understand that it matters to Jesus that there are people (our Mississippi neighbors) without real access to good healthcare…and so it should matter to us, too.”

No doubt, Stockett had no intention of inserting himself into a political debate. In his announcement of the lectures, he certainly didn’t mention Reeves or the 2023 elections.

But as more Mississippians than ever are tuned in to the state’s worsening health care crisis — and as the lectures will be held right against the backdrop of the November governor’s election — the contrast in views is impossible to ignore.

The Galloway lectures will take place Oct. 27-28, just 10 days before the Nov. 7 general election. Reeves faces Democratic challenger Brandon Presley, who has made his strong support for Medicaid expansion a top issue of his campaign. Independent candidate Gwendolyn Gray, also on the ballot, supports expansion.

READ MORE: Brandon Presley again vows to expand Medicaid as Gov. Tate Reeves reiterates opposition

Reeves publicly touts his Christian values, regularly posting Bible verses to social media and discussing his faith on the campaign trail. He even hosted live-streamed prayer services on his Facebook page during the COVID-19 lockdowns. He said it was his “pleasure” to declare Christian Heritage Week of Sept. 21, which also happened to be the date of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement in the Jewish faith and the religion’s holiest day.

Though the governor speaks publicly of his religion and even his membership at Galloway, he has never publicly equated health care access with his faith.

Mississippi, which has the nation’s highest rate of people without health insurance, is one of just 10 states that has not expanded Medicaid, thus leaving more than $1 billion in federal money on the table annually. Reeves has gone out of his way for more than a decade to block it.

The state is also in the throes of a hospital financial crisis in which nearly half of rural hospitals are at risk of closure and even larger hospitals have been forced to slash services or lay off staff. The hospital crisis is exacerbated by the fact that hospitals themselves must cover the health care service costs for uninsured patients.

After years of inaction on the health care crisis, Reeves last week announced a plan that would provide additional funding to hospitals. Much of the new funding would come from an increase in hospital taxes that would then allow the state to draw down additional federal funding through a Medicaid reimbursement program.

Experts say the Reeves proposal will help hospitals, but they said the plan will provide no relief to uninsured Mississippians. In the press conference announcing his plan, Reeves was asked why he supported drawing down federal money to help hospitals under his plan but opposed drawing down federal money to help uninsured patients via Medicaid expansion.

“We need more people in the workforce,” Reeves said. “… So adding 300,000 able-bodied Mississippians to the welfare rolls, I would argue, is a bad idea.”

READ MOREGov. Reeves announces 11th hour plan for hospital crisis. Opponents pan it as ‘too little, too Tate’

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 61% of Medicaid recipients work and another 30% of recipients are students, people who are disabled, or caregivers. Medicaid expansion is designed, in part, to provide health insurance to people who work in jobs where their employers do not provide health insurance and they do not earn enough to afford private insurance.

“Until Medicaid is expanded, Mississippians will continue to pay the price in lost dollars, lost jobs, and lost lives,” Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, said of Reeves’ recent announcement. “This is a state executive branch, making a health policy decision based largely in myth and an ideological belief structure. The reality is hundreds of thousands of Mississippians are not paid enough to afford health insurance coverage.”

Without question, the moral arguments being made by Stockett, Mitchell and others for health care access for poor Mississippians will continue regardless of the outcome of the 2023 governor’s election.

The Galloway lecture series will begin Oct. 27 at 5:30 p.m. and Oct. 28 at 8:30 a.m. at Galloway, located a block from the Governor’s Mansion in downtown Jackson. The lecturers are:

  • Rev. Chuck Poole, former pastor of Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson and now working with Together for Hope.
  • Dr. Dan Jones, former chancellor of the University of Mississippi and former dean of medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
  • Rev. Jason Coker, president and director of Together for Hope, a collation working to improve the standard of living in rural areas such as the Delta and Appalachia.
  • Dr. Sandra Melvin, a public health doctor and chief executive officer of the Institute for the Advancement of Minority Health.
  • Von Gordon, executive director of the Alluvial Collection, previously known as the William Winter Institute.
  • Dr. Michelle Owens, an OB-GYN in Jackson and the president of the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure.

The event is part of Galloway’s T.W. Lewis Lecture Series on Jesus and a Just Society. The series was started by an anonymous donor in honor of T.W. Lewis, an ordained elder in the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church and professor emeritus of religious studies at Millsaps College — the governor’s alma mater.

READ MORE: Experts say Gov. Tate Reeves’ plan will help hospitals, but not uninsured Mississippians

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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.