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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Barbour insists there's no one in Mississippi without health care

Last week, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said, “There’s nobody in Mississippi that does not have access to health care.”

As a Native Mississippian, I truly cannot understand how Governor Barbour can outright lie like that. Saying that everyone in Mississippi has access to care is just not true—an estimated 18 percent of state’s population is uninsured.

He believes that charitable care provided by hospitals and doctors ensure Mississippi residents the care they need. This is partially true. As the son of people who work for a hospital in Mississippi, I know that charitable care is indeed given to Mississippi residents. For example, North Mississippi Medical Center (NMMC), a nationally-recognized hospital in the state, provided more than $80 million dollars in fiscal year 2010 alone.

Although hospitals in Mississippi, like NMMC, provide charity care for many residents, we cannot expect charity care to be the sole source of care for those who are uninsured. Furthermore, we cannot place that burden on the hospitals, who are struggling during these tough economic times just like many other businesses. What Governor Barbour should really focus on is allowing every Mississippian “true” access to affordable health care through comprehensive insurance.

Governor Barbour thinks that the high rates of obesity and chronic conditions prevalent in Mississippi are responsible for health disparities. As a Mississippi resident, I can attest to fact that many Mississippians do not have the healthiest lifestyle, and, clearly, healthy eating and more exercise are essential to improving the health of any person. But that’s not the only step that would make this situation better.

Governor Barbour fails to recognize that increasing access to health insurance will lead to a higher use of preventive services. For example, if a man goes to see his doctor with high cholesterol and early signs of diabetes, his doctor will be able to recommend steps to lower his cholesterol and will work with him to reduce his likelihood of developing full-fledged diabetes. If this man didn’t have insurance, he would be less likely to go to the doctor because he’d have to pay the full cost of the visit himself. This means that he would not know that he was at risk of developing diabetes or heart disease or how to prevent either of these in the first place. Whether or not Governor Barbour realizes it, access to preventive care and a healthier population are intrinsically linked.

To combat the highest obesity and cardiovascular disease rates in the country, we must work to create a healthy environment in Mississippi. This not only includes encouraging healthy eating behaviors and exercise, but providing access to affordable health coverage as well.  The Medicaid expansion and premium tax credits that are provided by the Affordable Care Act will increase access to health coverage and preventive care. In the long run, this will lower health costs for everyone.

So does everyone in Mississippi have access to health care? I bet a large chunk of Mississippi’s population would have a different answer than Governor Barbour.

With these kinds of policy proposals, it is great news for the American people that he won't be running for President and trying to do to America what he and his cronies have done for Mississippi.