Several years ago, then-Gov. Haley Barbour announced a grand plan to make Mississippi a bulwark of medical professionalism and a haven for Americans looking for top-of-the-line health care. Since his election, Gov. Phil Bryant has taken up that banner, pounding the drum for making our state the standard for excellence in wellness.
As grand plans go, it's admirable. Problem is, our esteemed Republican leaders have ignored the inconvenient fact that Mississippians remain at or near the bottom of every national health standard. No American in her right mind will consider Mississippi for high-quality medical treatment when the state's leadership flatly refuses to improve the well-being of its own citizens.
If you need your roof repaired, you wouldn't go to a contractor who uses leaky buckets to catch the rain pouring through the holes in his own ceiling, would you?
Mississippi's wellness buckets are full of stagnant swamp water. Most of us are familiar with the dismal statistics. Take your pick: teen pregnancy, obesity, diabetes, smoking, heart disease—our rates lead or butt right up against the wrong end of the spectrum, and we've been stuck there for decades. Mississippians have the shortest life expectancy in the nation, along with the worst educational outcomes, lowest median income, and highest rates of poverty and food insecurity.
Look, I am not into bashing Mississippi. I am thrilled to see every iota of progress, and I celebrate the state's beauty and our people's spirit whenever I can. It's far from all gloom and doom. Just look at the fantastic "Happy MS" video for our exuberant expressions of joy, and the "If You're Buying, We're Selling" campaign for our stalwart refusal to succumb to fear and prejudice. But let's not be stupid: Taking third place honors for the most miserable state in the 2013 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, released in February, is not something to be proud of.
On July 16, Deep South Daily reported that the Trace Regional Hospital in Chickasaw County is closing its emergency room, leaving three counties without any emergency services. The closure—along with hospital bankruptcies, clinic shutdowns and medical personnel layoffs across the state—is a direct result of Mississippi's refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Under the law, the trade-off for allocating millions to individuals for health insurance is curtailing the funds to hospitals for treating uninsured patients.
People who understand how the law works predicted this outcome. "Without disproportionate share payments, many rural hospitals and hospitals that treat a disproportionate share of uninsured Mississippians will close," Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said during a news conference 16 months ago. "People will lose jobs, and people will lose access to health care, particularly in our rural communities."
Gov. Bryant, it seems, continues to rely on a very broken crystal ball. He spouts unsupportable bravado from one side of his mouth—that the federal government won't allow hospital closures—while spreading (historically inaccurate) mistrust for the feds to follow through on its promises from the other side—in this case, to pick up the tab for health-care expansion. This peculiar bi-polar view demonstrates just how wrong the conservative rhetoric has been about health-insurance reform. Bryant and his cohorts want all the beneficence of the federal government (we receive more than $3 in return for every $1 we contribute to national coffers) without taking any responsibility for their self-inflicted pain.
The federal government is making good on its promises, and Mississippians are paying the price. Despite the ACA's problems and constant right-wing obstructionism, Obamacare is working, dashing every thick-headed conservative argument against the rocks of pessimism. Americans signed up, even healthy young people, exceeding the best estimates. They paid their premiums. The sticker "rate shock" hasn't materialized, and the numbers of uninsured Americans has dramatically declined. Even Republicans, who still don't like the concept of Obamacare, like their coverage, a recent Commonwealth Fund survey found.
Yet, conservative cognitive dissonance continues unabated, and Republicans' crazy conspiracy theories and misinformed attacks on reality spew on.
Mississippi has an opportunity to make a significant impact on its lousy statistics. We can have our health, work and education reflect our best instincts instead of our meanest selfishness. Well-being, all of our well-being, matters. It's incumbent on those of us who embrace that to make our voices heard. Let your political leaders know that health-care expansion makes sense for Mississippi, and when they refuse to listen, make your vote count in November and future elections.
Ronni Mott is an award-winning writer and a yoga teacher, just stumbling and fumbling toward bliss like everyone else.