Meridian Star

Columns

June 11, 2013

Medicaid funding is not the real issue

MERIDIAN — As we take this time between Memorial Day and Independence Day to remember “one nation indivisible” and ponder how to salvage that ideal, issues of the day interrupt. Viewing them through the lens of “we the people” might be enlightening.

    Medicaid funding in Mississippi is a big issue.

    But the wrong focus. Not Medicaid funding but how Mississippi’s working poor can access health care is the real issue, one that lies in the area the Preamble to the Constitution calls “the general Welfare.”  As long as we allow leaders to couch this simply as a money issue, the powers that seek to divide us will win out.

    Statistics show much of our population to be obese, generally unhealthy, and poor. These statistics apply to large numbers of our working population. Research shows an unhealthy workforce is unproductive, unattractive to industry, and harmful to the state’s economy, a truth public policy in this state has long recognized.

    Since 1948 the Workers Compensation Law has required coverage for workers hurt on the job. Since the early 1970s Mississippi has provided Medicaid coverage for the very poor. And for decades state and local government and schools have provided health insurance for public employees and teachers.

    On the other hand, only 50 percent of workers in the private sector employer provided health insurance, down from 60 percent in 2000. Most of those without coverage work in low paying jobs.

    When uninsured low-wage workers get sick and go to emergency rooms for care, they don’t get free service like the destitute. They get charged the full rate. For some, hospitals do work out long-term payouts, but many have their wages garnished or resort to bankruptcy.

    This broken process provides a huge incentive for low wage workers to quit and stay home. Many can be better off with no income, instead qualifying for benefits such as rent subsidies, food stamps, and Medicaid. That’s opposite what our public policy should encourage.

    Expanding Medicaid to cover the working poor, as Obamacare proposes, is not the only solution. Mitt Romney built a universal coverage plan for Massachusetts. California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Oregon, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Maine, Vermont, and Pennsylvania pursued other options prior to Obamacare.

    It was encouraging to see Governor Phil Bryant move off his money focus recently and begin to look at non-Medicaid options. At the same time, it was encouraging to see Democrat leaders propose an Arkansas-type Medicaid expansion.

Identifying and researching other options is a first step towards finding common ground. There’s time to do more. Both sides should agree to hold a special session to reauthorize Medicaid for one year, then work hard together to find a solution to the real issue. That’s the kind of enlightened leadership our founders envisioned.

 

    Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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