By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant placed the blame squarely on President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act for Mississippi’s status as the only state where the number of people without health insurance has increased.
“If statistics show that the ill-conceived and so-called Affordable Care Act is resulting in higher rates of uninsured people in Mississippi, I’d say that’s yet another example of a broken promise from Barack Obama,” said the Republican governor when asked to comment on a study by WalletHub showing the percentage of uninsured in Mississippi has increased 3.34 percentage points to 21.46 percent of the total population.
Legislative Democrats countered that if the governor and others had led the effort to take advantage of the benefits and options offered by the ACA that the state, like the rest of the nation, would have seen a drop in the number of uninsured.
Only Texas, according to the study, has a higher rate of uninsured than Mississippi at 24.81 percent, but that rate actually has decreased 1.99 percentage points. Nationally, the rate of uninsured has dropped 3.66 points to 14.22 percent.
WalletHub did not have the pertinent data to determine if the percentage of uninsured residents has dropped in seven states – all with much lower rates of uninsured than Mississippi.
WalletHub, a social media company that does a litany of state rankings on various issues, used data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a national nonprofit that focuses on health issues, and from other sources to reach its conclusions.
Other recent studies, including polls conducted by Gallup, indicate that nationally the number of people with no health insurance has declined significantly.
Bryant and other state leaders in Mississippi have aggressively fought the enactment of the ACA, known as Obamacare. One of those leaders, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves declined comment on the study showing an increase in Mississippi’s uninsured, saying he was not familiar with it.
Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, also an outspoken ACA opponent, when asked whether it is a good thing for fewer people to have health insurance, said, “I don’t know if it is good or not. That is their call to make.” He said a 22-year-old, for example, might choose not to have health insurance.
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said that expanding Medicaid to cover primarily the working poor, as is allowed under the ACA, would help dramatically reduce the number of uninsured in the state. It is estimated that if Medicaid was expanded that as many as 300,000 Mississippians could gain health care coverage.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said, “It is sad how many out there need health care who are not getting it. I hear from them every day. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves for not taking the federal money to expand Medicaid.”
Bryant contends the Medicaid expansion would put an additional burden on the state’s budget. Other studies have suggested a positive economic impact to Medicaid that could reduce that burden.
The WalletHub study indicates that the states that expanded Medicaid saw the biggest drop in the rate of uninsured. About half the states, led by politicians opposing the ACA, opted not to expand Medicaid coverage.
Only three Southern states participated in the Medicaid expansion – Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia. All three experienced some of the biggest drops in the percentage of uninsured residents – 10.74 percent in West Virginia, 8.35 percent in Kentucky and 7.1 percent in Arkansas.
Another option to gain health care coverage under the ACA, Brown pointed out, is the health insurance exchange. Bryant also has opposed that.
“We have not spent any on outreach on the exchange,” Brown said. “If we did, we could have probably signed up another 10,000 there.”
Still, about 63,000 Mississippians did sign up on the federally run exchange.
But Bryant said without expanding Medicaid or aggressively publicizing the exchange, “We are already making tremendous strides in increasing access to health care and health care services.”
He cited the recent move to expand the University of Mississippi Medical School to produce more doctors and the development of “telehealth” to improve access for people in rural areas of the state as initiatives that will make a difference.
“And we continue to strengthen our overall business climate and attract more job opportunities for Mississippians and their families,” the governor said.