SID SALTER: Medicaid expansion remains a political non-starter

Whether it’s the heated race between Mississippi’s incumbent Republican senior U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel in their GOP primary or the rematch between incumbent GOP 4th District U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo and the veteran former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor that Palazzo defeated to take the office, Medicaid expansion under Obamacare remains a political non-starter in Mississippi.

Despite recent Associated Press coverage of the fact that Medicaid rolls in are growing in states like Mississippi that rejected Medicaid expansion, it’s clear based on the campaign rhetoric in both the Cochran-McDaniel race and in the Palazzo-Taylor race that the candidates don’t believe voters will embrace Medicaid expansion despite the claims of advocates that rejecting Medicaid expansion is against the state’s economic interests.

The candidates have struggled to get to the right of each other on the question of opposition to Obamacare. While in Congress, Taylor in 2010 voted against it and was literally the first Democrat to sign Discharge Petition No. 11, which sought to force a vote on repealing the law.

Palazzo’s opposition to Obamacare was the centerpiece of his campaign to unseat Taylor and has never wavered. Palazzo gained success in his challenge to Taylor by tying him to a vote for former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The political bogeyman of Obamacare has dominated the Senate race as well, but McDaniel has played the red herring that refusing to vote to shut down the government was the same as “supporting” Obamacare. It’s not.

Proponents of expansion point to the fact that the federal government has pledged to pay all medical costs for the newly eligible Medicaid enrollees in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and no less than 90 percent of their costs thereafter as evidence that Mississippi can’t afford not to expand Medicaid.

But many Mississippi lawmakers understand all too well the history of Medicaid finance in this state. The state has traditionally authorized a more expansive Medicaid program than the state actually funded – and then in the latter stages of each legislative session scrambled to actually fund it with one-time money plans held together with political bubble gum and bailing wire.

So politics aside, is Medicaid expansion as clear cut as proponents would have us believe? In a word, no.

Daily Journal
5/15/14