A group that was pushing to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot in Mississippi is "reluctantly" suspending its campaign, members announced Wednesday.
The decision comes after the state Supreme Court ruled Friday that a medical marijuana initiative passed by voters this fall is void because Mississippi's initiative process is outdated. That effectively killed other initiatives for which people are already petitioning.
Organizers of Initiative 76 said in a statement that it is halting its campaign "until there is once again a functional ballot measure process in Mississippi."
"We fully support the call for a special legislative session to restore the constitutional right of Mississippians to vote directly on issues of importance, including Medicaid expansion, and we will pursue every avenue possible to restore the rights of voters in this state," it said.
The group was hoping voters would get a chance to vote on Medicaid expansion during the next statewide election in November 2022.
Medicaid is a health insurance program for the needy, aged, blind and disabled. It is paid by federal and state money. Mississippi has about 3 million residents, and Medicaid already covers more than 763,500 people. That is 25% of the population.
Supporters of Initiative 76 estimated that expansion would add about 200,000 more people, primarily those working low-wage jobs that do not provide private health insurance coverage.
Mississippi is one of 12 states that have not approved expanding Medicaid coverage to the working poor, which is an option under the Affordable Care Act that was signed into law in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and his Republican predecessor, Phil Bryant, have said they believe Mississippi cannot afford to put more people on the program, even with the federal government paying for most of the tab.
Because Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation, it receives the most generous portions of federal funding for Medicaid. The federal government currently pays 84.5% of Medicaid expenses in Mississippi. The next-largest federal share goes to West Virginia, at nearly 81%.
Under expansion, the federal government would pay a higher share of the cost.
In its Wednesday statement, the group behind Initiative 76 urged elected officials to take action on Medicaid expansion, since voters may have to wait a while to make the choice themselves.
"We've witnessed unprecedented support for Medicaid expansion in recent weeks, and we are committed to keeping up the momentum that our campaign has created," the group said. "Our broad coalition of doctors, nurses, business and faith leaders and voters from across the political spectrum is not going away. We will keep up the fight until Mississippians receive the healthcare they need."
The state Supreme Court said Mississippi's ballot initiative process is unlawful because initiatives need signatures from five congressional districts to get on the ballot, but because of Mississippi's stagnant population, the state has only four districts.
The initiative process was added to the Mississippi Constitution in the 1990s when the state had five congressional districts, but the language dealing with the initiative process was never updated. The state dropped to four districts after the 2000 census.
Mississippi's two top-ranking lawmakers, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, have both called for a special session of the legislature this week after the Supreme Court's decision.
The Mississippi Legislature usually meets from January to April. Lawmakers can reconvene only if the governor calls them back to the Capitol. Gov. Tate Reeves said earlier in the week that he is still reviewing the Supreme Court case.
Gunn said he wants lawmakers to come back to discuss reviving the state's ballot initiative process.
Hosemann said a special session "may well be warranted" to discuss reviving a state medical marijuana program. He said sick people who would benefit from the drug should not have to wait to access it.
Hosemann said he believes the ballot initiative process needs to be revived but that it will likely take some time.
Because it would require a constitutional amendment, it would need two-thirds of support from lawmakers. Then, the issue would need to be put on the ballot in the next statewide election, which is in November 2022.