This State Could Be the Last One (for a While, Anyway) to Expand Medicaid

The story has been updated to correct the number of organizations comprising the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas. It is 128. For years, state Sen. Phil Berger says, there was nobody in North Carolina who opposed Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act more vehemently than he did. “If there was somebody in the state of North Carolina that had spoken out publicly in opposition to Medicaid expansion more than me, I’d like to talk to that person,” Berger said in an interview last month. From the time the ACA passed in 2010 until last spring, “my attitude was Medicaid expansion was wrong for North Carolina,” he said. Berger, a Republican, is president pro tempore of the North Carolina Senate, the most powerful position in the chamber, so his opposition virtually guaranteed that the legislature would not expand the joint federal/state program to include an additional 600,000 adults with low incomes. That’s why Berger’s recent conversion from opponent to proponent has shot North Carolina to the top of the list of the states that are most likely to break ranks with the other 10 that have refused to expand Medicaid.

‘Crisis Mode’: As Hospitals Close, Mississippi Lawmakers Mull ‘Band-Aid’ Fixes

The Mississippi Legislature will address the state’s ongoing hospital closures, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn said in press interviews on Tuesday as the legislative session began. At a press conference in November last year, House Democratic Leader Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, highlighted the dire situation in Mississippi.”[T]he state’s only burn center has closed,” he said. “The only neonatal intensive care unit in the Delta has closed. A Jackson hospital that serves rural portions of Hinds County is reducing critical services to stay afloat. Greenwood Leflore Hospital itself is on life support, staying open only with the help of the City and County putting up money to keep it from closing its doors for good.” The City of Greenwood and Leflore County jointly own the facility. Hosemann, who is president of the Mississippi Senate, said Tuesday during a press conference that he recently visited Greenwood Leflore Hospital, noting that it has cut some health services, including obstetrics and gynecology.

‘It’s shameful and disgusting’: Mississippi cuts welfare to the poor nearly 90% while sending it to Brett Favre and other connected players

In Mississippi, where elected officials have a long history of praising self-sufficiency and condemning federal antipoverty programs, a welfare scandal has exposed how millions of dollars were diverted to the rich and powerful — including pro athletes — instead of helping some of the neediest people in the nation. The misuse of welfare money rankles Nsombi Lambright-Haynes, executive director of One Voice, a nonprofit that works to help economically vulnerable communities in Mississippi. “It’s shameful and disgusting, especially when we’ve been a state where we hear discussion every year about poor people not needing resources and poor people being lazy and just needing to get up to work,” she said. The state has ranked among the poorest in the U.S. for decades, but only a fraction of its federal welfare money has been going toward direct aid to families. Instead, the Mississippi Department of Human Services allowed well-connected people to fritter away tens of millions of welfare dollars from 2016 to 2019, according to the state auditor and state and federal prosecutors.

Mississippi physicians say health care crisis ‘engulfs us,’ urge action

As emergency federal pandemic funds for hospitals are dwindling, the health care crisis in Mississippi is progressing, according to a statement put out Tuesday by the Mississippi State Medical Association. The physicians group is calling on lawmakers and state leaders to act quickly to offset the burden of hospitals in the state caring for uninsured patients. Mississippi, one of only 11 states not to expand Medicaid and provide health insurance for hundreds of thousands of residents, has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the nation. When hospitals care for these individuals, they are not reimbursed by any insurance company and incur a deficit referred to as “uncompensated care.” In 2021, hospitals statewide sustained almost $600 million in uncompensated care costs, according to the Mississippi Hospital Association. That is almost double the amount from 2010. The statement from MSMA referred to hospitals on the brink of closure and the coverage gap created by the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid. “The fact is there is a sizable gap that exists for working Mississippians who cannot afford private health insurance, yet whose income is too much to qualify for Mississippi Medicaid. When these individuals need healthcare, hospitals are required to treat them regardless of their ability to pay … Such an economic strain on hospitals is one that even the most successful private business could not endure,” the MSMA opinion stated.

Mississippi Health Care Faces ‘Looming Disaster,’ Medical Group Warns Lawmakers

Mississippi’s health-care crisis is worsening, and an overhaul of the state’s “current system of care is unmistakably essential,” a leading medical group warned hours before the State Legislature was set to begin its 2023 session at noon Monday. “The lack of access to healthcare for many Mississippians is currently a crisis, not a new crisis, but one that has been fermenting—and is getting worse,” the Mississippi State Medical Association said in a press release this morning. “As hospitals close across Mississippi, access to life-saving medical care becomes a real threat to all Mississippi. While the debate rages on as to why our hospitals are closing, the immediate crisis progressively engulfs us.” Across the state, several hospitals have closed or cut services in recent months. During a hearing with lawmakers in November, Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney warned that 38 of Mississippi’s rural hospitals, or about 54%, could close. Mississippi is already the poorest state with some of the worst health outcomes, including during the pandemic. “That is a situation that is intolerable from an economic standpoint—to lose 54% of our hospitals in the state—much less from an access to care perspective,” PBS reported Edney saying in November.

Arkansas plan of insurance for poor more agreeable than Medicaid expansion for key lawmaker

State Senate Medicaid Committee Chair Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, is not the first politician to look to Arkansas as an example of how to provide health care coverage to more Mississippians. “No, I don’t believe in it,” Blackwell said of Medicaid expansion after a recent legislative hearing on the financial crisis facing Mississippi hospitals and their possible closure. Blackwell was echoing the positions of many Republican politicians in Mississippi who say they oppose Medicaid expansion that would provide health care coverage for primarily the working poor. But then Blackwell went on to say that “there might be some alternative to Medicaid expansion for the state to consider.”

Mississippi legislators could debate tax cuts again in 2023

Mississippi legislators return to the Capitol on Tuesday, and their three-month session could be dominated by debates over taxes. This is the final year of a four-year term. Most members of the Republican-controlled House and Senate are expected to seek reelection, but the Republican speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, announced months ago that this will be his final year in office. During the 2022 session, legislators passed and Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed a plan to reduce the state income tax over four years — the state’s largest tax cut ever. That reduction starts this year. Gunn says he wants legislators this year to finish the job of eliminating the income tax. He points to a budget estimate that shows Mississippi with a surplus of about $1 million.

As health infrastructure shrinks, a daughter of the Delta cares for her community

To reach Gunnison, Mississippi, from Cleveland, the quickest path – though not the route with the best-paved streets – takes you off Highway 8, down miles of narrow roads slicing through some of the most fertile land on earth. In early December, the fields are still but not empty. Silvery water pools in gashes in the dirt, and cardinals settle on shoots of electric green gleaming in the gray light of winter. When you reach Highway 1, you’ve arrived in Gunnison, with a population of 425 and only two businesses: a gas station and Healthy Living Family Medical Clinic, opened by Gunnison native Wyconda Thomas in 2019. The squat brick building is decorated for the season, with a wreath on the door and letters out front spelling “Merry Christmas.” When Thomas decided to open her own practice, she chose the place where she saw the greatest need, which also happened to be the community that raised her.

Healthcare, infrastructure top list of 2023 session priorities for Mississippi lieutenant governor

With the Mississippi legislature’s next regular session less than two weeks away, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann laid out a number of priorities he’d like to see pass in 2023. Atop his list were healthcare and infrastructure, with education and taxes also being mentioned during a meeting with news media Wednesday. Hosemann, who leads the state Senate, said people often have preconceptions about legislative sessions during election years. State offices, including his own, will be up for grabs in November.

Welfare recipient won’t stop fighting for ‘decency and common sense’

The state of Mississippi isn’t getting anything past Danielle Thomas. Thomas is a bright, young single mother raising her six kids in south Jackson. Because she lives in poverty, Thomas is also an expert in the convoluted policies and bureaucratic red tape surrounding one of the biggest scandals in state history: the TANF program. Despite recent attention on the graft and corruption within the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant, Mississippi is still pumping less than 5% of the money directly to mothers like Thomas. “I really think it’s still them stealing from people, to be honest,” Thomas, 34, said. “I really feel like they feel like a lot of us aren’t smart enough, or they feel like we probably don’t know the system in and out well enough.”

© 2016 Mississippi Health Advocacy Program