OPINION: Mississippi remains most in need of health care coverage

The entire country urgently needs reform of the nation’s health care system, but several health care research studies show Mississippians need the benefits of reform legislation struggling through Congress even more than virtually every other state.
You wouldn’t know that from the distortions about the reform legislation peddled as fact by Republican critics from Gov. Haley Barbour to several GOPers in the state’s congressional delegation. Their goal is to confuse Mississippians and create doubts about the overriding case for the measures.
Their criticisms, however, do not address the fact that nowhere in the U.S. is the health care crisis more acute than the state of Mississippi.
Dr. Marianne Hill, senior economist of the state College Board’s policy research center, in the center’s January, 2010 economic report gives an overview of how pending health reform legislation would impact the cost, availability and quality of health care in Mississippi.
She cites statistics for a number of health care categories illustrating that Mississippi is now adversely impacted by its standing near the bottom of nearly every health care category. As she points out, the legislation making its way through Congress addresses the three basic problem areas affecting Mississippi: cost of health insurance, availability of coverage and quality of care.
Hill’s report details available data in several categories to show how Mississippi stands in comparison with the rest of the nation, plus the impact of the data.
n Health insurance coverage: (U.S. Census figures) Nationally, 20 percent of the population from ages 19 to 64 lack coverage. In Mississippi, 24 percent lack coverage.
n Risk of death forthose without coverage: Nationally, 40 percent higher risk, translating into nearly 45,000 annually. In Mississippi, the rate of persons dying linked to lack of appropriate care is 142 per 100,000, the highest in the nation, this according to the State Score Card of the Commonwealth Fund.
n Increased cost of health coverage: Nationally, an annual average increase between 1991 and 2004 was 5.5 percent. In Mississippi, the annual average increase was 6.7 percent.
Add to the above that Mississippi has the highest rate of infant mortality, plus the highest rate of teenage births, both categories would obviously benefit from much broader health care coverage as indicated by the World Health Organization’s website referenced in Hill’s article. The WHO shows that in countries with universal health care infant mortality is multiple times less than in the U.S.
Of course, that gets back to the basic premise of why President Obama has made reforming health care his primary initiative. For seven decades, presidents from both parties have vainly tried to reform the health care system so no American will be left without available care. Yet, we remain the only industrialized nation without universal health care.
The health insurance industry has always put up roadblocks, just as it is now, using fronts such as the Lewin Group, which poses as a nonpartisan research outfit but actually is owned by a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, the health insurance giant. It gets Republicans in Congress to mouth their bogus information.
In a recent mailing piece to Mississippi voters, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker cited Lewin as his source for a claim that 119 million Americans could lose their private coverage under a “public option” plan contained in the House-passed reform bill. The assumption is millions would give up their private insurance plan if given a government alternative. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that only 10 to 11 million would switch.
Meantime, Mississippians should be cautioned that when they hear Haley Barbour attack provisions in the health care reform legislation, he is speaking as one of the GOP’s national attack team to scuttle any Obama legislative initiative.

Bill Minor, a nationally honored journalist, has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him at P.O. Box 1243, Jackson, MS 39215-1243, or e-mail at edinman@earthlink.net.

Bill Minor