State squandering great opportunity

Opinion

Mississippi’s own economists have said that the state is missing out on some 9,000 jobs by refusing to expand its Medicaid program to cover the working poor.

A new study claims the forfeited jobs are more than double that number.

Whatever the correct projection, it is an incredibly bad decision of the Republican leadership, led by Gov. Phil Bryant, to reject an opportunity that more than half of the states in the country — most of them much better off economically than Mississippi — are embracing.

The latest study comes from the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, which supports the expansion. The research and report were done by two professors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The professors looked at three possible scenarios based on the percentage of newly eligible who would likely enroll in Medicaid. Using the “intermediate” number of 220,000 — about 60 percent participation — the study projects that the expansion from 2014 to 2020 would generate more than $14 billion in new economic activity, create about 20,000 new jobs and provide a net increase of $848 million in state and local tax collections.

“Net increase” needs to be underlined. This means that even after the state were to kick in its share of the cost of expansion, a cost that Bryant et al says Mississippi can’t afford, state and local governments would still come out $848 million to the good just in tax revenue. And that doesn’t count the $8.7 billion in federal money that would be funnelled to this state to pay for 94 percent of the cost of expansion during this six-year period.

If a corporation were to come to this state and make a similar offer — put up $579 million over six years in return for a nearly $9 billion investment, 20,000 new jobs and a net increase in tax revenues — Bryant would faint. Then he would summon lawmakers back to Jackson immediately to ram the deal through.

Instead, he’s content to play politics and let wealthier states grab the money — not to mention leaving Mississippi’s working poor to go without medical coverage and depend on hospital emergency rooms for charity care.

The muleheadedness of his position and that of his GOP allies is just astounding.

Mississippi has probably already missed out on the first year of federal money, when Washington will pick up, according to the researchers’ projections, 98 percent of all costs — reimbursement to providers plus state administrative expenses. But even in the seventh year, the deal would still be sweet with the feds paying 88 percent of the total costs.

Maybe the federal government can’t afford this offer, but it is ludicrous for Mississippi to say it can’t.

Tim Kalich

Editor and Publisher

Greenwood Commonwealth