Senators hear from uninsured working poor

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – As the Legislature deals with whether to expand Medicaid, a Senate subcommittee heard testimony from people affected by not having health insurance.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, held a Public Health subcommittee hearing Tuesday where he heard testimony about the impact of a lack of health insurance on the lives of the working poor and on the state.
Bryan said many of the more than 400,000 Mississippians who do not have health insurance “work harder than state legislators work, but do not have access” to primary health care.
The Legislature is currently grappling with whether to expand Medicaid to cover people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level or about $34,000 for a family of four as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Most Republican state officials, including Gov. Phil Bryant, Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, have said they oppose the expansion, at least in part because of the costs to the state. Studies conflict, though, on the true costs to the state since the federal government will pay for the bulk of the program.
Gunn and Bryant in particular also said they oppose the program on philosophical grounds.
“Instead of assuming enormous costs that we cannot afford, I would suggest that we spend our time and efforts in finding good jobs for all Mississippians,” Bryant said in his State of State speech earlier this year.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Petra Kay, who owns a Jackson day-care center that employs 23 people, said she cannot afford to offer insurance for her workers or for herself. She asked the legislators how one of her workers, a mother, who has breast cancer was supposed to obtain treatment.
“How can we live in a country not insuring our children and their mothers?” she asked.
A Jackson woman who owns a coffee shop said she tried to avoid going to a doctor because of lack of health insurance. When she was transported to the hospital with stroke-like symptoms, she said she kept thinking, “This is going to be real expensive.”
She said she now cannot get insurance because of the pre-existing condition.
Dr. Tim Alford, a Kosciusko physician, provided numerous accounts of people he has treated who sought treatment late because they did not have insurance and had developed conditions, such as diabetes and heart conditions, that could not be treated or were much more costly to treat.
He told the story of a man who did not go to the doctor to deal with health issues because he has no health insurance and now faces medical procedures totaling more than $1 million over the next decade.
Alford said the man now qualifies for Medicaid because of his disability and it will cost the state much more now to treat his condition than it would have at an earlier stage.
He said the man’s plight is repeated time and again in Mississippi.
“These are clerks, cashiers, truck drivers … They live among us. They are our fellow Mississippians. In so many, ways we depend on them,” Alford said.
Alford said the 675-member Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians, as well as some other health care provider groups, have endorsed the expansion. Mississippi’s largest doctor group, the state Medical Association, has not taken a position.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com