A new poll finds more than half of Mississippians are in favor of expanding Medicaid. The survey,conducted by Mason Dixon Polling & Research in April, found 54 percent of registered voters supported expanding Medicaid to cover Mississippians who make up to $15,420 a year.
"And support for expansion actually strengthens when voters were asked to weigh the cost to the state - this cost being that Mississippi will pay up to 10 percent share for expanding coverage," says Roy Mitchell, director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program. "The benefit to Mississippi is $8.7 billion through 2020."
Mississippi Republican leaders have repeatedly opposed expansion of Medicaid, saying it would ultimately prove too costly. But Mitchell says the poll found even a majority of Republican voters supported expanding Medicaid through a private option, like one used in Arkansas.
"The federal government is giving states a lot of leeway right now to design its own program," Mitchell says. "This is a tremendous opportunity for Mississippi. We should take advantage of it like Arkansas has. Otherwise, the money is just gone."
Ginni Tran is a community health worker with Mercy Housing & Human Development on the Gulf Coast. She says expanding Medicaid could help give access to preventative health services - blood pressure, cholestral, diabetes checks - to many of the individuals she works with.
"Even if Medicaid only allows you to visit your doctor four times a year - we could do a lot with four visits in a year," she says. "With certain labs, I think it would be a big help, and you're not worried about having a heart attack and driving up a $60,000 bill, which the hospital has to carry."
Governor Phil Bryant said in a statement that Mississippi already spends more than $1 billion a year on the existing Medicaid program, and expansion could lead to an "even higher bill," along with tax increases or cuts in services.
"We may need to do a better job of explaining to everyone what the true cost to hardworking taxpayers would be," Governor Bryant said in the statement. "Mississippi already spends more than $1 billion in state tax dollars each year on the existing Medicaid program. Expansion would require hardworking taxpayers to pay an even higher bill and would result in tax increases or draconian cuts to services like public safety and education."