Employer-based insurance declines in Mississippi

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The number of Mississippians who receive health insurance through an employer dropped more than 12 percentage points from 2000 to 2011.
Only four states have a smaller percentage of their population receiving health insurance through employers than Mississippi, according to a study released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a national nonprofit that focuses on health care issues.
“Higher costs naturally translate into fewer employers offering insurance coverage, and fewer employees accepting it, even when it is offered,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “That is why it is so important that people have options for purchasing affordable health insurance that meets their needs.”
According to the study, in 2000, 1.57 million Mississippians, or 64.5 percent of the population, including family dependents, received their health insurance through an employer. In 2011, that number had dropped to 52.1 percent, or 1.34 million state residents.
The study was released as a debate rages in the state over whether to expand Medicaid, as is allowed by federal law, to cover an estimated 300,000 people earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or less than $15,000 annually.
Many members of the Republican leadership in the Legislature and Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said they oppose the expansion because of the costs to the state, plus they also say they are philosophically opposed to helping grow another government program.
Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, recently said he would rather work on developing policy that provides “jobs with benefits … At the end of the day, I don’t think 50 percent (of Mississippians) want to be on Medicaid.”
Currently, about 740,000 Mississippians are covered by Medicaid or by the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage to a segment of the working poor.
For people covered by the existing Medicaid program in Mississippi, the federal government pays about 73 percent of the costs, though it pays a smaller percentage of the administrative costs. The people covered by the existing Medicaid program are for the most part the disabled, poor pregnant women, poor children and a certain segment of the elderly population.
For the Medicaid expansion, the first three years, starting in 2014, the federal government will provide 100 percent of the cost. After that, the federal share will stair-step down each year to 90 percent in 2020 where it will remain.
But Bryant said there are other costs the state will incur, such as administrative costs.
According to a 2012 study by Gallup, Mississippi has the second highest number of uninsured residents at 23.5 percent, trailing only Texas at 27.6 percent.
The Robert Wood Johnson study concluded that New Mexico had the lowest percentage of residents receiving insurance through an employer at 48 percent. Texas and Louisiana also had smaller percentages than did Mississippi.
The study found that Mississippi’s decline in employer-sponsored health insurance is mirroring a national trend. Still, the study said that the vast majority of Americans will still receive employer-sponsored insurance despite changes to the health care system that will be made through federal legislation.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com