By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – While Mississippians overall have an unfavorable impression of the controversial federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, they like individual aspects of the law, including expanding Medicaid.
A poll conducted by the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies found that 58.6 percent of Mississippians have a favorable view of expanding Medicaid to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level with the federal government paying the bulk of the costs.
But when asked detailed questions about whether they wanted to expand the program, it was supported by a smaller majority of 52.6 percent – compared to 37.4 percent who wanted to keep the program as it is.
The expansion is adamantly opposed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and the leadership of the House and Senate. The current state Medicaid program, caught up in the fight over expansion, is not authorized or funded for the new fiscal year that begins July 1.
Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said of the survey, “I’m sure the survey results would have been different had taxpayers been asked if they wanted to foot the bill for a drastic increase to this already enormous cost. Mississippi cannot afford it, and as Gov. Bryant has said many times, any expansion of Medicaid would result in tax increases for Mississippians or cuts to critical spending in areas like education, public safety and economic development.”
During a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Ralph Everett, chief executive officer of the Joint Center, urged leaders in Mississippi and four other Southern states rejecting the expansion, to “consider the will of the people.”
The Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization dealing primarily with minority issues, conducted the polling in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina in March and April.
The Center polled 500 people in each state with the financial backing of the Kellogg Foundation and with the help of Families USA, which supports enhanced access to health care.
Only 32.6 percent of Mississippians have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act compared to 46.8 percent who have an unfavorable view. Those numbers are similar to what was found in the four other states surveyed.
Regionwide, there was a 33 percent favorable view compared to 43.8 percent unfavorable.
But when asked specifically about expanding the existing Medicaid program, regionally it was viewed 62.3 percent favorably compared to 33 percent unfavorably. The expansion was the least popular in Mississippi, with a 58.6 percent favorability rating to compared to 37.4 percent unfavorable rating.
Other individual aspects of the Affordable Care Act, such as the exchanges, were seen favorably when asked about specifically.
In general, the expansion was viewed more favorably by African-Americans, though a majority of whites also viewed it positively.
The individual state polls had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said if the five Southern states that already have poorer health outcomes than the rest of the nation do not participate in the Medicaid expansion, the gap between their health outcomes and those of the rest of the nation will widen.