Mississippi Health Advocacy Program
MHAP has been a convener or integral part of all major consumer health policy in the State since its inception over 20 years ago.The Mississippi Health Advocacy Program has made a difference in the state by empowering citizens to enter the policy process and by opening access to the necessary information and analysis. For over twenty years, MHAP has strengthened the bonds of common interest among groups of different race and class backgrounds by keeping the focus of social policy debate on the core issues of community needs and citizen participation. By working within partnerships and building consensus about low-income issues, MHAP has shaped the debate on child policy and health care issues that affect low-income families in Mississippi.
From issues of welfare reform, CHIP, Tobacco tax, Medicaid eligibility defense and Food Policy, MHAP has always worked with other groups and intensified its efforts through the strength of many. As a member of the Coalition on Block Grants, the Kellogg Devolution Initiative, Children’s Health Matters, Communities for a clean bill of Health and the Mississippi Food Policy Council, MHAP has worked with a diverse array of partners that represent every person in the state. MHAP has been able to bring local and national media attention to health policy issues and has been featured in media such as The New York Times, Reuters, Bloomberg News, Politico, HBO and PBS. As a result, MHAP has shaped the debate on issues of health care policy that affect low-income families in Mississippi. Through policy briefs, public testimony, polling, action alerts and community meetings MHAP continues to serve as a resource that relays timely information about child and health care policy to community coalitions, providers, and policymakers.
In 1995, MHAP founded the Mississippi Coalition on Block Grants (MCBG). As the Federal government began the process of devolving federal welfare programs to State authority, MHAP created the coalition to ensure local communities in Mississippi were given a voice in welfare reform. The coalition effectively monitored the implementation of federal block grant monies for welfare benefits in Mississippi. At the time, Mississippi was characterized as the nation’s worst-case scenario for state implementation of welfare reform. Prior to Congress passing federal welfare reform legislation, the MCBG proactively passed state legislation authorizing state hearings on the issue of welfare reform. As a direct result of MHAP’s advocacy efforts, vulnerable Mississippi populations were protected and punitive politically motivated measures were averted.
Mississippi CHIP Implementation
In 1997, MHAP organized and convened a Children’s Health Insurance coalition that developed an outreach plan for enrolling Mississippi’s children in the newly created State Child Health Insurance Program. Ultimately, the advocacy effort ensured that the Mississippi CHIP program served children up to 200% of the federal poverty level (the highest allowable federal poverty level) and included presumptive as well as continuous eligibility. Remarkably, at the time, the Mississippi CHIP program was touted as one of the best designed CHIP programs in the nation.
MHAP was the founder and programmatic lead for Communities for a Clean Bill of Health (CCBH). Described as the broadest and most diverse health advocacy coalition to ever exist in Mississippi, CCBH was founded by MHAP in 2002 with the single goal of increasing the cigarette tax in Mississippi. The coalition consisted of over forty members and was funded by member contributions and grants. MHAP was responsible for funding development and the administration of these funds, all while raising the cigarette tax issue, once considered a nonstarter, to the forefront of Mississippi politics. After years of community outreach, legislative advocacy and media engagement, the MHAP collaborative successfully raised the state cigarette tax.
Medicaid Eligibility Defense
In the summer of 2004, the Governor abruptly began Medicaid eligibility cuts for a group of Medicaid recipients known as Poverty Level Aged and Disabled (PLAD). This group that consisted largely of disabled and elderly people, numbered 65,000. MHAP took the lead by employing community organizing, grassroots engagement and media advocacy to bring national attention to the issue. Within the time span of a few weeks, MHAP galvanized a network of advocates and hosted statewide forums informing policymakers and the general public of what was happening. As a direct result of these forums, local advocates were able to get a federal injunction to immediately halt the Governor from removing 65,000 Medicaid beneficiaries from the rolls. In the next legislative session, legislation was passed reversing the cuts. As a direct result of MHAP’s initiative and leadership, thousands of Medicaid beneficiaries had their health coverage restored.
Mississippi’s notorious standing as the unhealthiest state in the nation prompted MHAP and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic to establish the Mississippi Food Policy Council (MFPC). The MPFC’s membership includes farmers, health professionals, health advocates, consumers, and representatives from state agencies such as the Mississippi Department of Health and Mississippi Department of Agriculture.
The MFPC works to improve Mississippi’s food system by providing policy analysis, education, and training to stakeholders to address food system challenges such as access to healthy foods. In its short time in existence, the MFPC has been successful in affecting policy around accessibility of fresh local foods. One of the most notable successes has been changing the policies so that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries can now use Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to buy fresh foods at farmers markets across the state.
The MFPC also promotes Farm to School programs as a way to infuse healthy, locally grown foods into Mississippi’s school cafeterias. The MFPC passed legislation to create a state Farm to School Week as well as the creation of a legislative Farm to School interagency task force that will examine ways to make fresh, local foods available in Mississippi’s schools.
MHAP has also been instrumental in advocating for the expansion of the Medicaid program in Mississippi. MHAP developed a coalition known as Cover Mississippi. The coalition’s goals have been to promote Medicaid expansion while conducting outreach and enrollment to all uninsured Mississippians eligible for the ACA Exchange. MHAP has provided support to the Medicaid expansion coalition in the form of policy research, printed materials, polling and the collection of individual and community stories of those whose health and welfare has been compromised by our elected leaders failure to implement Medicaid expansion.
Consumer Assistance Program (CAP)
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), MHAP is positioned to play a larger role in coverage expansion in the state. Prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act, MHAP received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to launch a consumer assistance program named Health Help Mississippi (HHM). Initially, the program targeted parents who were experiencing problems accessing the state Medicaid and CHIP programs for their children. In 2010, MHAP was awarded a federal grant under the ACA to expand the program’s health insurance consumer assistance service beyond children. As a result of being declared the state’s Federally designated consumer assistance program, HHM is now a valuable community resource assisting Mississippi families navigate the ACA health insurance marketplace and resolving consumer complaints and grievances. HHM currently has offices in Jackson, Hattiesburg, and Greenville.