By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, who is a proud fiscal and social conservative, got philosophical recently when he was explaining to members of the media why he is not crazy about the federal government’s plan to provide health care to a segment of the uninsured population by expanding Medicaid – a federal-state health care program.
He was stating his opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – often called Obamacare – and bemoaned the amount of governmental dependence.
“Anybody you are dependent upon is a person you are enslaved to,” Gunn said in opposing the controversial new health care law.
When Gunn was asked directly what should happen if people who work at a low-paying jobs get sick or injured and need expensive medical care, he said, “They have health care.”
When asked how they had health care, he said, “To my knowledge they go to the emergency room, they pay for it out of their pocket or it is provided by their employer.”
Emergency room care, of course, is not free. It is the most expensive type of care. If a person goes to the emergency room, someone still has to pay.
If the person who receives the treatment cannot pay, then the costs are passed on to other customers, such as increasing the amount charged to insurance companies, which impacts the coverage received by those with health care insurance. That is the free market system at work and also one of the reasons health care costs in this country continue to increase at ridiculous rates.
Of course, most people cannot afford to pay for health care out of their own pocket. Spend one night in a hospital and try to pay for that out of your own pocket. And believe it or not, not every employer provides health care insurance for its workers.
My father was a blue-collar worker in a factory and farmed a little on the side. Heck, the company where my father worked even operated a clinic and a hospital. Fairly impressive for rural Jones County.
But things have changed since my childhood. That clinic and hospital closed long ago.
According to data compiled by the Mississippi Economic Policy Center and available on the nonprofit organization’s web page, 28 percent of the state’s residents work in jobs that pay less than $10 per hour.
And how does that relate to health care?
Mississippi is near the bottom in terms of residents who get their health insurance from their employers. About 51 percent of the state’s residents received health insurance through their employers in 2011. The trend is going the wrong way. In 2000, a little more than 60 percent of Mississippians were covered by their employers.
In total, more than 21 percent of Mississippi residents, or 538,000 citizens, had no health insurance in 2011, according to statistics gleaned from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Trust me. I know a little bit about having to pay for health care. Even with health insurance, the cost of medical insurance is a burden – a big burden.
Of course, most Mississippians know that.
Without health insurance, my bet is that all of that 28 percent earning less than $10 per hour will not be able to pay for any significant medical care – whether that is a couple of days in the hospital or a late night visit to the emergency room with a sick child.
Some people implied I put the speaker on the spot by asking him what happens to a low-wage worker – a large constituency in Mississippi – who gets sick.
But it should be a legitimate question for the state’s and the nation’s policy makers.
The United States, including Mississippi, has determined that everyone is entitled to a certain degree of health care – in an emergency room. The current system of sending people when they are their sickest to the emergency room is not a practical solution. It raises the costs of health care for everyone.
Perhaps, as Gunn said, government is not the answer. But somebody needs to come up with an answer.
My Daddy used to tell me over and over again there is value and pride in work – all work.
We need to decide as a society does that value and pride include a practicable level of health care.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief in Jackson. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journal inc.com.