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Bryant: Mississippi needs to pursue health-care jobs

O.S. mayor said not expanding Medicaid will cost jobs

By Emily Wagster Pettus — Associated Press / Sun Herald | August 15, 2013

JACKSON -- Mississippi needs to pursue private investment in health care businesses to promote job creation and improve the quality of life, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant told an audience of about 700 people Thursday at a state chamber of commerce event.

The state has long been one of the poorest in the nation, and it has some of the highest rates of obesity, heart disease and other health problems. Bryant said officials are working to create "medical corridors" by offering incentives to pharmaceutical firms, medical equipment manufacturers and other types of companies.

"Today is not all about what the government can do for us," Bryant told the business people, lawmakers, health professionals and others at a meeting he and the Mississippi Economic Council hosted at the Jackson Convention Complex.

"I am of the opinion that the more we get the government out of health care, the better off we would be,"  Bryant said.

Bryant did not mention government-funded research, although others at the meeting praised it as a way to jump start economic growth. He also did not mention his long-standing opposition to expanding Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the needy.

Under the health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010, states have the option to extend Medicaid coverage to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000 a year for one person.

In Mississippi now, the income cutoff is about $5,500 for one person, and many able-bodied adults are not eligible for Medicaid coverage, regardless of how little they earn.

About 644,000 of the state's nearly 3 million residents are enrolled in Medicaid. Earlier this year, Bryant and other Republicans blocked Democrats' attempts to expand Medicaid to another 300,000 people.

Bryant has said repeatedly for more than a year that Mississippi can't afford to put more people on Medicaid, even with the federal government paying most of the tab.

Outside the governor's meeting Thursday, Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran, a Democrat, said expanding Medicaid would help the state attract jobs because it would help create healthier workers. She also said the extra federal money from Medicaid expansion could help hospitals avoid job cuts.

"We will be losing health care jobs as well as general health care and quality of life for all of our citizens," Moran said. "If we had accepted the federal funding, we would've created 9,000 new health care jobs in this state, in addition to retaining what we have."

Malcolm Portera, chancellor emeritus of the University of Alabama Health System, said Birmingham is a medical hub with hospitals and research facilities that provide solid jobs. He said research facilities are a good investment for state government because they enhance the state's reputation and help attract private dollars.

"Physician mind power is the key to success," said Portera, who's also a former president of Mississippi State University.