JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) – Republican Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said in a private conversation that extending Medicaid to people with low-wage jobs was in the state’s best interest, but that he refused to allow the policy for political reasons support, a former chancellor of the University of Mississippi said Thursday.
dr Dan Jones is a physician who directed the University of Mississippi Medical Center before serving as the university’s chancellor from 2009 to 2015. During a news conference organized by Democratic lawmakers on Thursday, Jones said that Reeves confirmed in a private conversation with him in 2013 or 2014 that expanding Medicaid would benefit Mississippi’s economy and more residents of a state affected by plagued by poor health outcomes, health care would provide.
Jones said he tried to persuade Reeves, the then-lieutenant governor, to use a 2010 health care law signed into law by President Barack Obama that allowed Medicaid to expand, with the federal government paying most of the cost. Jones said the interview took place in Jones’ office at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
“The governor put his hands up after a few moments and said, ‘Chancellor, I recognize that it would be good for the people of Mississippi, it would be good for our economy, it would be good for public health, to expand Medicaid,'” Jones said . I had a big smile on my face and said, “I’m glad to hear that, and I’m glad to hear that you’re going to support Medicaid expansion.” His response was, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to support it because it’s not in my personal political interest.’”
Reeves wrote on Twitter on Thursday that Jones’ remarks were “obviously a lie.”
“I bet I hadn’t spoken to this guy in a long time before he got fired from Ole Miss and I never would have said that,” Reeves wrote. “Do you think he’s been holding that ‘juicy scoop’ for 8 years? Until 2019? And did you remember that just before a press conference with the Democrats in 2023?
Jones returned to the University of Mississippi Medical Center after the state college board decided not to renew his contract as chancellor. He retired two years ago and says he’s had more freedom to speak publicly since then.
Reeves is seeking a second term as governor this year. He has said frequently that he does not want to enroll people in a government health program. A Democrat running for governor, Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, makes expanding Medicaid a key promise in his own campaign.
During his state of the state address on Monday, Reeves said Mississippi should strengthen health care resources by cutting red tape, expanding medical residency programs and relying on technology.
Mississippi is among 11 states that have not exercised the federal government’s option to extend Medicaid coverage to people who have 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 vote in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Mississippi has the nation’s highest rates of fetal, infant, and preterm mortality. At a legislative hearing on Jan. 13, Dr. Daniel Edney, the state health commissioner, that Mississippi does not have the medical staff to address a wide range of poor health outcomes. Some hospitals are on the verge of permanent closure due to staff shortages and declining populations in poor areas.
Speaking at the state Capitol on Thursday, Jones said he is now sharing details of his 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 Mississippi citizens to have health problems and not have access to health care solutions,” Jones said. “Shame on us in a state with billions of dollars in our coffers not to act on this to make healthcare available to all of our citizens. It’s immoral.”
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover topics. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.
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