By Tommy Reynolds
The State of Mississippi should not put off making a decision about Medicaid reauthorization and expanded coverage for uninsured working Mississippians any longer. July 1 is the beginning of the next fiscal year, and unless the Governor calls a special session to reauthorize Medicaid, that agency will be operating without a budget. Dating back to English precedent, it is well established that no government function can operate without its funding being first approved by an elective legislative body.
There is a very important decision which needs to be made and should be made before July 1. Recently enacted federal law will reduce the payments that our local rural hospitals receive for treating uninsured individuals.
Hospitals around the state provide hundreds of millions of dollars in services to individuals who currently do not have insurance, and the federal government reimburses a portion of those expenses with funds earmarked for that purpose – DSH payments. As early as January 1st of the next year, these funds will be reduced by the federal government.
Federal law now allows that these funds be used to provide funding for direct health care coverage for qualified working citizens who do not have insurance. The federal government recommends that we expand our Medicaid program to accomplish this goal, and they will use the former DSH payments to pay a portion of it.
So that we understand the local impact of the situation, approximately 6,500 residents of Tallahatchie, Yalobusha, Lafayette and Grenada counties are eligible to receive healthcare coverage under the federal plan at no cost to the State of Mississippi.
Mississippi has a choice to either accept the Medicaid expansion opportunity or devise a plan to allow qualified, mostly working Mississippians the opportunity to purchase private health insurance policies. Or, do nothing.
If the State of Mississippi does not choose to accept the additional $1 billion from the federal plan, our rural hospitals will be treating uninsured individuals with less hope of recovering the expenses. Anyone can see local hospitals will be harmed by such a tremendous financial hit.
Without acceptance of the $1 billion, not only will 300,000 qualified, largely working Mississippians continue without health care coverage, but many of our hospitals may be faced with the choice of laying off employees or reducing services – or both over time. Additionally, insured citizens may have to bear the burden with higher fees to cover the hospital’s loss. Higher fees will translate into increased private insurance premiums, and so on.
Our Governor continues to oppose Medicaid expansion with no offer of alternatives which would be approved.
By contrast, our neighboring State of Arkansas with its first GOP majority legislature since the Civil War, has authorized a program which provides market-based healthcare coverage for their citizens who would have been entitled to benefits of Medicaid expansion.
In practical terms, if the Arkansas plan-supported by a majority of its Republican Legislature-were applied to Mississippi, we could use the $1 billion in federal funds to allow qualified, working Mississippians the opportunity to purchase their own private insurance policies through private health insurance providers, rather than expanding on Medicaid.
If we leave that $1 billion on the table, Mississippi, unlike Arkansas and the majority of other states in the nation, will no doubt suffer a loss of jobs and income to our hospitals.
However, if the state accepts the money, it could mean an injection into our state economy of $1 billion dollars, which, according to some economic estimates, would provide 9,000 additional jobs in the medical field and help to provide more wide-ranging healthcare for our people.
I support a measure that has been proposed to accept the $1 billion provided by the federal government for Medicaid expansion and instead use that money to provide private health insurance for the 6,500 qualified citizens of Tallahatchie, Yalobusha, Lafayette and Grenada counties and the 294,500 other uninsured, working Mississippians who will qualify for this help.
Instead of hospital closings and layoffs, I would like to see additional people hired by healthcare providers and our hospitals operate on sound financial footing. The proposed “Arkansas Plan” will do both.
The program would operate through local health insurance providers. Mississippi working people who qualify would be able to pick a private health insurance policy with the help of the insurance agent they choose. Premiums would be largely covered by the available federal money.
What’s more, it would save the state money. This proposal would reduce the state’s cost of providing coverage through the CHIPS program. Qualified working parents could move their children off the state-provided CHIPS program and under their private insurance policies.
Also, it would create more employment in the healthcare field with increased local taxes and purchases to grow our local economies.
Finally, our working citizens would enjoy improved quality of life and be more productive if they are healthy. Preventative services offered through healthcare policies would help employees stay on the job. Knowing that healthcare is available to them will provide these Mississippians peace of mind.
I think that politics need to be put aside, and the good of the state needs to be looked to. The only agenda that we should follow is the benefit of the state and our citizens. The State of Mississippi should receive every possible benefit, and every possible effort should be done to preserve and create jobs.
Please feel free to contact me at my local office at P.O. Drawer 280, Charleston, MS 38921, by phone at (662) 647-3203 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you on any issue that you may have.