Former UM chancellor: Gov. Tate Reeves privately acknowledged Medicaid expansion benefits
Dr. Dan Jones, the former chancellor of University of Mississippi, said on Thursday that Gov. Tate Reeves once privately acknowledged the benefits of Medicaid expansion. Publicly, however, Reeves has long resisted expansion. Credit: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today
Former University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones said that Gov. Tate Reeves told him in 2015 meeting that he understood how Medicaid expansion would benefit the state but couldn’t agree to champion it for political reasons.
Jones, who led the state’s largest hospital University of Mississippi Medical Center before he served as chancellor from 2009-2015, divulged details of the 2015 meeting during a Thursday press conference with Democratic legislative leaders about the Republican leadership’s inaction on addressing the state’s hospital crisis.
“A little while after I began explaining the benefits of Medicaid expansion, he (Reeves) put his hand up and said, ‘Chancellor, I recognize it would be good for Mississippians, good for our economy, good for health care if we expanded Medicaid,'” Jones recalled. “I had a big smile on my face and said, ‘I’m so glad to hear you’re going to support expansion.’ His response, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to support it because it’s not in my personal political interest.'”
The revelation about Reeves’ closed-door expression to Jones directly counters the governor’s long-held public stances. Reeves, who previously spent eight years as lieutenant governor and leader of the state Senate, has defiantly opposed Medicaid expansion for more than a decade.
Even earlier this week, the governor tripled down on his opposition to expansion in a speech.
“Don’t simply cave under the pressure of Democrats and their allies in the media who are pushing for the expansion of Obamacare, welfare, and socialized medicine,” Reeves said during his annual State of the State address on Monday. “You have my word that if you stand up to the left’s push for endless government-run healthcare, I will stand with you.”
Reeves’ office did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on Jones’ charge.
Lawmakers, working in Jackson until early April, face growing pressure to address the state’s worsening hospital crisis. State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney warned them in December that 38 hospitals across the state are in danger of closing in the short-term because of budget concerns. Meanwhile, Mississippi has the highest percentage of uninsured residents who cannot afford health care, so hospitals often have to cover those care costs themselves.
One hospital funding solution that 39 other states — including many Republican-led states — have implemented is Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Economists estimate Mississippi would receive more than $1 billion per year in new revenue, and hospitals would benefit directly.
Meanwhile, public sentiment for Medicaid expansion is growing. A Mississippi Today/Siena College poll conducted in early January 2023 found that 80% of Mississippians, including 70% of Republicans, support expansion.
Despite the growing popularity of the measure, Republicans who run state government have not budged. More than 15 different bills that would have expanded Medicaid — all filed by Democrats in early 2023 — died in committee earlier this week without receiving a vote or even a debate by Republican committee chairs.
Speaker of the House Philip Gunn has been in lockstep with Reeves in his opposition of expansion, and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who has said in the past he is open to some version of expansion, has not made the issue a priority this session.
“The governor and the party he leads have deflected, distracted, and attempted to discredit the merits of programs that have made real, positive impacts on health outcomes in other states that have adopted them — some, even, just as red as Mississippi,” Rep. Robert Johnson, the Democratic House leader, said at the press conference on Thursday. “They’ve downplayed the severity of the crisis, not only diminishing just how dangerous the lack of access to care is becoming across our state, but ignoring the economic damage closing hospitals will cause in communities.”
In 2010, Congress adopted President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the Medicaid program that allowed states to opt into to draw down large amounts of federal funding to provide health coverage for mostly poor, working people.
One year later, then-state Treasurer Tate Reeves ran for his first term as lieutenant governor, and in 2015 ran for a second term. That is when, Jones said, the meeting with Reeves occurred at the chancellor’s office in the Lyceum administrative building.
In that 2015 meeting, Jones said he pointed out to Reeves that he had the opportunity as the state’s Senate leader to champion Medicaid expansion to help hospitals and help poor, working people afford health coverage.
Jones, during the press conference on Thursday, shared three imperatives to expand Medicaid: a moral one, an economic one, and a political one.
“Shame on us, shame on us, for allowing the citizens of Mississippi to have health care problems and not have access to health care solutions … it is immoral,” Jones said. “… It’s time for us to put the pressure on leaders of our state to move past the personal political interests and consider the interests of every Mississippian who needs access to health care.”
This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.