BOBBY HARRISON: Mississippi’s spinning its wheels on health care

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The person you paid when you put gas in your car at 10:30 p.m. Saturday on the way home from the movie probably did not have health insurance – the same for the waiter who served you before the movie.
The woman who took care of your child while you were at work also is most likely lacking health insurance, according to statistics.
Ditto for the clerk at the store where you bought groceries and the person you hired to clean up your yard after a long winter’s rainy season or the person you found to do the home repairs your wife has been bugging you about for the last couple of years.
According to statistics compiled by the Mississippi Center for Health Policy, there are more than 14,000 cashiers, more than 8,700 cooks, more than 10,000 construction workers and so on working with no health insurance.
They can be found in every county across the state – about 400,000 Mississippians, more than 10,000 in Lee County, almost 5,000 in Alcorn, almost 4,000 in Pontotoc, more than 2,500 in Monroe and so on.
Chances are if they feel bad they are less inclined to seek medical treatment because they will have to pay out of their pocket. If they have a cold, sinus infection or even the flu, chances are they eventually will get better. They may work while they are sick because they can’t afford to take off even though they are going to be infecting you and me when they handle our food or take care of our children.
And here is the funny, in a perverse kind of way, kink in our health care system – if the person has something more than a common cold or simple case of the flu, eventually that person will get to feeling so bad that they will seek out health care somewhere.
If that person ends up at the emergency room at 2 a.m., as it often the case, you and I will pay – a lot more than if that person had made an appointment and gone to the local clinic.
And if that person has an illness that has festered for a long period of time so that the person is never going to be well and able to be a productive citizen, he or she might be deemed disabled and become eligible for Medicaid.
Lo and behold, that person now has health insurance. That person also is a lot more expensive to treat than he or she would have been if they had received treatment early to curb the ravages of his or her disease.
Plus, there is a strong possibility that the person would have been able to continue to work while their received treatment early on.
But because the person never received that preventive treatment, statistics show that person in Mississippi might be a amputee because of complications from diabetes or a person on her death bed because of the ravages of breast cancer.
Statistics show that Mississippi leads the nation in amputations because of lack of preventive care for diabetes. Plus, Mississippi is 38th nationally in the instances of breast cancer but fourth nationally in the instances of breast cancer deaths. Why is that?
Because women in Mississippi without health insurance never get treatment until they are sick as a junkyard dog on a cold, wet January day, and when they finally do seek treatment it is too late. But because we are a Christian state we provide them treatment at that point. It is expensive treatment, and in the end it is treatment that won’t change the outcome, but it is the Christian thing to do.
Maybe, expanding Medicaid to cover people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $15,400 for an individual or $31,800 for a family of four, is not the right thing to do in Mississippi.
After all, we surely do not want to do anything else to foster an environment of government dependence in Mississippi.
But the flip side is that we are the most unhealthy state in the nation. The truth is that we spend more money treating diseases on the more expensive back end instead of the less expensive front end than any state in the nation.
Surely, the people in this state are smart enough to come up with some alternative where we are not throwing money at a health care system and getting practically no bang for our buck.
What that answer is may be debatable, but it is fairly evident what we are doing now is not working.
Just look at the statistics.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at or call (601) 353-3119.

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