Forums dig into health care reform

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

Northeast Mississippians poked at the key provisions of federal health reform at a set of forums late last week.
Questions about Medicare, health insurance exchanges and access to physicians of choice were top of mind.
“I feel like there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” said Holly Bullock of Tupelo, who is personally facing serious medical issues. “My life is on the line here. I want to know the facts.”
Orlando Ivy of Tupelo came to get information to take back to his church.
“We need preventive medicine more than anything,” Ivy said.
Sponsored by the Jackson-based Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, the programs were designed to focus on what’s in the law and how it fits into Mississippi’s health landscape. The Thursday forums at the Link Centre are part of a statewide series of meetings paid for by a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant.
Medicare reform is largely a separate debate from the Affordable Care Act, although there are some provisions that cross between the two issues, said Corey Wiggins, program manager with the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program. The Medicare debate is focused on making the program sustainable for the next generation.
“They’re not talking about people currently on Medicare or people closely approaching Medicare,” Wiggins said in response to several questions on Medicare.
As things stand after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land and is moving toward implementation. Republicans have vowed to repeal the law, but some have talked about keeping certain elements.
“There’s a lot of questions about how to approach repealing the law,” Wiggins said.
Certain provisions such as young adults being able to stay on their parents’ insurance and guaranteed issue – not being denied because of preexisting conditions – are quite popular, Wiggins said. The individual mandate, which is enforced with a tax penalty, is less popular, but insurance industry considers it essential to spreading the risk to allow affordable premiums and guaranteed issue.
Mississippi will have to weigh the pros and cons of Medicaid expansion, a key component of expanding health insurance coverage.
The Center for Mississippi Health Policy estimates 270,000 Mississipians would qualify under the Medicaid expansion.
If Mississippi Medicaid expands, it will cost about $1.6 billion annually. Between 2014-2019, the federal government will pay for 97 percent of the costs. Starting in 2020, Mississippi would be responsible for 10 percent of the tab. Mississippi current Medicaid match is 80 percent.
“There are great concerns about the deficit,” Wiggins said.
Hospitals – and by extension, people with insurance – already are picking up the tab for the uninsured and costs not covered by Medicaid and Medicare, Wiggins said. Under the health care reform, payments for hospitals that care for large populations of Medicaid and the uninsured would decrease. Those payments could go away whether or not Mississippi expands Medicaid.
michaela.morris@journalinc.com