By Senator Rod Hickman
When Mississippi prospers, the entire country rejoices because they know there is truth to the old adage – “As goes the South, so goes the Nation.” Mississippi is the poorest state in the U.S. Poverty, which leads to poor diet choices, which in turn brings health issues, is the catalyst for this vicious cycle. But it seems the state can’t get off the hamster wheel of continuing to oppress those that need the most aid. Especially when funds are available to help mend century-old problems, and our legislators simply decide to save the money for a rainy day.
The legislators started the session with $4 billion more than they anticipated. It was music to the ears of many who thought their prayers had been answered, only to be let down once again. The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) asked for $9 million to help hire nurses to fill empty clinics, and it was allotted $720,000 – just enough to keep operating and cover inflationary costs for the next year.
The Mississippi Hospital Association projected hospitals would need at least $230 million just to stay afloat. It’s receiving $104 million, which includes numerous federal restrictions. This means more struggling hospitals and clinics will close, and non-operating hospital floors will remain empty. Recently, yet another hospital – St. Dominic Memorial Hospital in Jackson – is laying off employees and closing its behavioral health services. According to Mississippi Today, this is the third major health system to announce layoffs recently. This hospital crisis is only exacerbated by the funding challenges, rural health crisis, nursing shortages, mental health service gaps, and more facing the state’s healthcare system.
That’s a lot of medical loss in a state with the highest infant mortality and maternal mortality in the country. Not to mention the state with the highest rates of several major health issues. In the rare instances when the government does get it right – extending postpartum healthcare – it’s either preceding or following a major setback – the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The truth of the matter is, if Mississippi is healthier and has a financially stable healthcare system, so is the rest of the country because the state is generally last.
As some lawmakers claim Mississippi has a surplus that needs to be saved, we know investing in repairing the state’s laundry list of complex problems is way more important than a savings account for a future problem that we all know will go towards something that potentially has nothing to do with the underserved. We need to look at our education system, infrastructure, regressive tax systems, healthcare gaps, and the list goes on.
We deserve a Mississippi that serves us all well, and with the right investments and proper policy changes, $4 billion of unprecedented funds can be used to help spearhead that Mississippi dream. We have to give back to get more. The state needs higher revenue to pay for the services we want and need, and the rule of thumb is saving money doesn’t make anyone more money, only investing.
So, let’s invest in our state – healthcare, education, and infrastructure, and let the revenue from those developments be the driving force of not only a prospering economy but one that makes the residents proud. That level of gratitude cannot be met without Medicaid expansion, which seems like a no-brainer since two-thirds of Mississippians support it.
Currently, there are more than 100,000 uninsured adults in Mississippi with incomes below the poverty line who are caught in the Medicaid “coverage gap” and who would be eligible for Medicaid if the state were to expand its Medicaid program. However, Mississippi is one of ten states that has not yet expanded Medicaid.
By expanding Medicaid, Mississippi could not only increase access to healthcare for those with low incomes, it could also help reduce health-related disparities, support financial stability among low-income families, and improve the stability of health systems, including rural hospitals and community health centers. In addition, Medicaid coverage provides long-term benefits for children. Children with Medicaid do better in school and miss fewer school days due to illness or injury, research shows. They are also more likely to finish high school, attend college, and graduate from college; they earn more as adults, and they experience fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
Expanding Medicaid will greatly benefit the state economy, save our healthcare system, and both produce and save jobs. According to a 2021 report from state economists, Mississippi would save approximately $206 million to $227 million annually between 2022 and 2027 if it expanded the program. Mississippi cannot truly address the issue of access to affordable healthcare and ensure a healthier future community and economy for all Mississippians without it.