A Dangerous Game | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

A Dangerous Game

Rarely does a two-day period go by that I don't get a Facebook message or email asking about how to apply for Medicaid or where to access free or low-cost birth control and reproductive health care. In Mississippi, we have a tremendous issue with lack of access to basic health-care services.

Whether those messages are from a pregnant doula client whose husband is laid off during her third trimester or from a working mother of three whose job doesn't provide health-care benefits--the fact is that hundreds of thousands of Mississippi citizens don't have access to basic health care.

I am one of them. I have fibromyalgia, and every month I struggle to pay for the nearly $400 in medications that make my pain bearable. The bigger problem for me is that my doctor believes I may have another autoimmune disease such as lupus or even multiple sclerosis. When I lost Medicaid benefits, I lost the ability to continue seeing my rheumatologist who was trying to figure all that out, so now my family doctor and I do the best we can, and I pay out-of-pocket for the limited care I can afford.

The bigger conversation that affects my life and the lives of other uninsured Mississippians is whether our state will expand access to Medicaid as outlined under Obamacare. Some Republican governors are starting a trend: Several who were once against Medicaid expansion have crunched the numbers, met with experts and special interests, and have decided to get on board with the Affordable Care Act. They may have had a "Come to Jesus" moment.

In Mississippi, though, Gov. Phil Bryant is digging in his heels and playing chicken with state Democrats over not only Medicaid expansion but reauthorizing funding for Medicaid at all. He is playing a dangerous game with the lives of hundreds of thousands of Mississippians.

When many think of the impact of not funding Medicaid, they think only of people carrying little Medicaid cards to their doctor's office. But the Medicaid program pays for much more. Medicaid funds the state health department's free birth control and STD testing program. It pays for the sliding-fee-scale clinics for working-poor people who are ineligible for Medicaid. Medicaid dollars offset the costs for hospitals that care for the uninsured.

Unhealthy people can't work and raise their families. Unhealthy children have a hard time learning in school. If our governor and state lawmakers truly want to move our state forward, it's time to make a move: Reauthorize Medicaid and expand it now. My health depends on it.

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