The Mississippi Senate on Tuesday rejected two proposals to expand Medicaid to people who work low-wage jobs that don't provide private health insurance.
Both votes fell along party lines. Democrats who are in the minority in the Senate voted for both expansion proposals, and Republicans who are in the majority voted against them.
Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Ellisville, said Medicaid — a government health insurance program for the needy, aged, blind and disabled — has been "an economic nightmare" with rising costs for the federal government and state governments.
"There is no money tree in Washington," McDaniel said.
Democratic Sen. David Jordan of Greenwood, who grew up in a sharecropper's family, asked him: "Sen. McDaniel, where's your compassion? Don't you have any compassion at all?"
Republican-led Mississippi is one 12 states that have not taken the option to expand eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare overhaul law signed by then-President Barack Obama in 2010.
Healthcare advocates say Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the U.S., has lost billions of dollars by not extending Medicaid eligibility to about 300,000 people.
"They are going to jobs where they can barely make ends meet," Democratic Sen. Angela Turner Ford of West Point said Tuesday.
Opponents of expansion, including Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, have said they do not want to put more people on a government program.
Medicaid is paid by state and federal tax dollars, with the federal government picking up a larger share of the tab for poorer states. The federal share for Mississippi is about 78%. With expansion under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government pays 90% of the cost for all states.
Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory said expanding Medicaid would help doctor's offices, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities, particularly in rural areas.
"Mississippi will make money if we expand Medicaid," said Bryan, chairman of the Senate Public Health Committee.
Senate Medicaid Committee Chairman Kevin Blackwell, a Republican from Olive Branch, argued against the two Democratic-led proposals.
"Every state that has expanded has missed the mark," Blackwell said, citing higher-than-expected enrollment and expenses.
The expansion attempts came during debate on Senate Bill 2799, which proposes several changes to Mississippi's Medicaid program and keeps the program alive beyond June 30. The program comes up for a comprehensive review and renewal every few years.
Mississippi has a population of about 3 million. Even without expansion of eligibility, the state's Medicaid enrollment has increased significantly during the coronavirus pandemic as people have lost jobs. The enrollment figure went from 671,581 in January 2020 to 747,477 last month.