With the clock ticking down on Mississippi's Medicaid program, it's past time for lawmakers and Gov. Phil Bryant to work out a compromise on its expansion.
If nothing is done soon, letters will be going out to some 640,000 current enrollees, telling them the program may end on June 30. That's going to get plenty of people worked up, since no Medicaid means death - literally - for those who count on the government assistance to buy the medicine that controls their hypertension, diabetes and other life-threatening ailments.
We don't foresee the federal-state health insurance program actually stopping in Mississippi. In fact, Bryant has said he will continue to run the program if lawmakers fail to reauthorize it, even though it's not clear he can legally do so.
But rather than unnecessarily scare Medicaid recipients or wind up in a constitutional fight in court, the two sides at the Capitol need to work out a solution both sides can accept.
The Democrats, with whom I agree, want to take Obamacare up on its offer to expand the program to cover the working poor. Republicans, led by Bryant's obstinate stance, claim the state can't afford it, even though the federal government will pick up the vast majority of the cost.
Since the Republicans hold the Governor's Mansion and the majorities in both houses of the Legislature, there really is no bypassing them, even if their reasoning is flawed.
The Democrats should start considering other options that could win Republican support. A good place to look is Arkansas, where a similar partisan split exists.
There, the Democratic governor, Mike Beebe, and Republican legislative leaders negotiated a compromise "private option" Medicaid plan, which would allow Arkansas to use federal Medicaid dollars to subsidize the cost of private insurance for the working poor. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has given preliminary approval to the idea, according to an article that appeared in The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson.
Republican proponents of the alternative in Arkansas claim that it has several advantages: the cost to the state will be much less, and it will actually reduce the Medicaid rolls by moving more than 150,000 current enrollees from the government plan to private insurance.
Mississippi should consider the possibility of copying its neighboring state. Of course, there is one obstacle Mississippi would have to overcome in doing so. Under the Arkansas plan, the working poor would purchase their insurance through a health exchange - an online marketplace where consumers can shop for their best deal on private insurance. Bryant, in what was another mule-headed move, torpedoed earlier this year the effort of Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney to set up such an exchange for Mississippi.
Hopefully, it's not too late to resurrect Chaney's work.