New proposal offers strong options for the uninsured

By Rep. Michael Evans

 

We are closing in on the deadline to make a decision about Mississippi’s Medicaid program. The question is whether or not we intend to help 300,000 working Mississippians have access to affordable healthcare and protect our rural hospitals from losing so much money that they have to shut down or lay off employees.

To bring the matter closer to home, latest figures show that 966 Kemper Countians and 1,475 Winston Countians would qualify for this help. That’s more than the entire population of DeKalb and Scooba combined.

July 1 marks the beginning of the state’s new fiscal year, and without legislative action, Medicaid will be operating without an approved budget. Nothing can be done until Governor Phil Bryant calls a special session to address the issue. He said he needed a plan. We gave him one.

While the Governor was out making statements about the mediocre condition of education, we Democrats in the Legislature were working hard to put together a plan that we believe offers a sensible compromise on the Medicaid dilemma.

We presented our idea on June 5 and sent letters to the Governor, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves offering to sit down and discuss our proposal. We’ve also been in contact with State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney.

Simply stated, our Mississippi Market-Based Health Insurance Coverage Plan offers 300,000 working Mississippians access to affordable private insurance policies through a state-run insurance exchange. The monies that otherwise would be used to support Medicaid expansion for these 300,000 will instead be used to pay for these premiums.

We believe the Democratic proposal is a multiple winner for Mississippi in areas beyond the ones usually discussed.

First, it will be operating through local health insurance providers. Mississippi working people who qualify will be able to pick a private health insurance policy through a state-run exchange. The federal government will cover premiums, and the policies will require a co-pay in some cases. This system is good for our small business insurance agents.

Second, it will reduce the state’s cost of insuring poor children. Working parents whose children are currently covered by the CHIPS program will be able to move their children off the state-run program and onto their private insurance policies. This will save the state money.

Third, we already pay a tax on our insurance premiums. These new policies will generate additional state income through the existing premium tax structure. It will create new revenue for the state.

Fourth, our working people will enjoy improved quality of life and be more productive if they are healthy. Preventive services offered through private health insurance policies will help employees stay on the job. Knowing that health care is available to them will provide these Mississippians peace of mind.

Governor Bryant has already rejected our proposal, without even hearing the merits of the plan. Working Mississippians deserve better.

Those of us from the rural areas are very concerned that if the Governor continues to be stubborn, our local hospitals will be forced to close, and our citizens in the medical service areas will be without jobs. Hospitals who receive reimbursement for caring for the uninsured or underinsured will begin losing those reimbursements as early as October 1. For some hospitals, the loss is in the millions of dollars. They are losing the money because the Affordable Care Act uses those funds to put eligible people on Medicaid so their services will be paid for. Hospitals won’t have to give free service because everyone will be insured, under the plan. But, if no one is placed on either Medicaid or private insurance policies, as we suggest, the hospitals will just lose the money with no reimbursements.

To be honest, many of us cannot understand why the Governor would be willing to watch 300,000 working Mississippians lose the opportunity for healthcare, stop our hospitals from being paid for their services, and create anxiety and uproar among the people currently being served by Medicaid.

I urge you to contact the Governor’s office at (601) 359-3150. Ask him to call the special session so that Legislators can discuss the issue of helping our working uninsured, our hospitals and small businesses.

Please feel free to contact me at 601-416-7495, or email me at mevans@house.ms.gov on this, or any other matter.