In the world of Mississippi politics, there seems to be a recurring pattern. Twenty years ago, Haley Barbour criticized his Democratic predecessor, Ronnie Musgrove, for expanding the state’s welfare rolls. Specifically, Barbour took issue with the significant increase in enrollment in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) during Musgrove’s tenure. Musgrove left office with nearly 83,000 children enrolled in the program, a significant jump from the 12,000 enrolled when he took office. CHIP is a federal program that provides health insurance to children of the working poor who do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance.
Fast forward to the present day, and history seems to be repeating itself. In this year’s gubernatorial election, Democrat Brandon Presley is challenging the Republican incumbent Governor Tate Reeves, and one of Presley’s primary focuses is Medicaid expansion. Presley argues that expanding Medicaid, as 40 other states have done, would provide health insurance for the working poor, with the federal government shouldering most of the cost.
Reeves, who aligns himself with the beliefs of his mentor Haley Barbour, opposes Medicaid expansion, citing concerns about the expansion of government-run healthcare. Instead, Reeves supports the idea of people obtaining health insurance through well-paying jobs, rather than relying on a government program.
However, despite the wait for those elusive well-paying jobs, Mississippi still has one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the nation. The state’s uninsured rate stands at 11.9%, compared to the national average of 8.6%. Even states like Texas and Florida, which Reeves often cites as models due to their lack of state income tax, have higher uninsured rates than Mississippi.
Medicaid expansion has been shown to decrease the uninsured rate in states that have implemented it. For struggling healthcare providers, such as hospitals, Medicaid expansion offers an opportunity to ensure that uninsured individuals receive necessary medical treatments without incurring insurmountable costs. Additionally, states that have expanded Medicaid have seen benefits such as reduced uncompensated care costs and the preservation of healthcare services.
This issue is not new to Mississippi. Former Governor John Bell Williams recognized the importance of Medicaid when he convinced the Legislature to opt into the original program in 1969. Similarly, Haley Barbour, despite his criticisms of the CHIP program, did not attempt to roll it back during his two terms as governor.
It is clear that Mississippi is at a crossroads once again, facing the choice of whether to expand Medicaid and provide healthcare coverage for its most vulnerable residents. As the state’s uninsured rate remains high, it is crucial for policymakers to consider the benefits of Medicaid expansion and its potential to improve access to healthcare for all Mississippians.
– Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
– Kaiser Family Foundation – State Health Facts
– Mississippi Today – “Deja Vu: Medicaid expansion marks 2019 Mississippi Democratic primary for governor”