JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – The Mississippi Democratic Caucus voiced their frustration in what they called “Republican inaction” over the ongoing healthcare crisis.
House Minority Leader Robert Johnson (D-District 94) and Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons (D-District 12) stressed the need to expand Medicaid and extend postpartum care.
Dr. Dan Jones, the former Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) and the former Chancellor at the University of Mississippi, echoed the sentiments from state lawmakers. He also shared a conversation he had with Governor Tate Reeves (R-Miss.) about the need for expanding Medicaid.
According to Jones, the two had the conversation while Reeves was serving as lieutenant governor and while Jones was Chancellor of the University of Mississippi.
“After a few moments of the conversation, he put his hands up and said, ‘Chancellor, I recognize that it would be good for Mississippians. That would be good for our economy, good for healthcare if we expanded Medicaid.’ I had a big smile on my face, and I said, ‘Governor, I’m so glad to hear that. I’m glad to hear you’re going to support Medicaid expansion.’ His response? ‘Oh, no, I’m not going to support it because it’s not in my personal political interest,'” explained Jones.
Reeves has been outspoken for years when it comes to the expansion of Medicaid, opposing expansion most recently at his state of the state address.
The governor responded to Jones’ claims on Twitter and said, “This is obviously a lie. I’d bet I hadn’t talked to this dude since well before he was fired by Ole Miss, and I never would have said this.”
Jones returned to UMMC after the state college board chose not to renew his contract as chancellor. He retired two years ago, and said that since then, he has more freedom to speak publicly.
Reeves is seeking a second term as governor this year. He has said frequently that he does not want to add people to a government health program. A Democrat running for governor, Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, is making Medicaid expansion a central promise in his own campaign.
During his State of the State speech Monday, Reeves said Mississippi should shore up health care resources by cutting bureaucracy, increasing medical residency programs and relying on technology.
Mississippi is among 11 states that have not taken the option from the federal government to expand Medicaid coverage to people working low-wage jobs without health insurance. At least 15 bills that would have done so expired under a Tuesday deadline without a legislative debate or a vote in the Republican-controlled legislature.
Mississippi has the nation’s highest fetal mortality, infant mortality and pre-term birth rates. At a Jan. 13 legislative hearing, Dr. Daniel Edney, the state health officer, said Mississippi doesn’t have the medical workforce to address a wide range of poor health outcomes. Some hospitals are on the brink of permanent closure due to staff shortages and population decline in poor areas.
At the state Capitol on Thursday, Jones shared his memories of the conversation with Reeves because he has never seen Mississippi’s health care system under the strain it is now, even with a $4 billion surplus in the state budget.
“Shame on us for allowing the citizens of Mississippi to have health care problems and not have access to health care solutions,” Jones said. “Shame on us in a state with billions of dollars in its coffers to not act on this to make health care available to all of our citizens. It is immoral.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.