Images of Mississippi needing federal assistance are iconic. Robert F. Kennedy’s 1967 trip to Mississippi’s Delta region produced images of poverty not unlike LBJ’s War on Poverty tour. Jennifer Haberkorn has written a piece at Politico titled, “Obamacare enrollment rides a bus into the Mississippi Delta.” Her snooty lede to the story reads: “In the poorest state in the nation, where supper is fried, bars allow smoking, chronic disease is rampant and doctors are hard to come by, Obamacare rolls into town in a lime green bus.”
It appears the author believes Obamacare could bring the good news of salvation if only Mississippians skeptical of the federal government would let it. Haberkorn writes:
The effort in Mississippi illustrates the obstacles the health law must overcome in many parts of the country, particularly in deeply conservative areas where antipathy toward Washington mixes with challenges of geography, education and general skepticism or ignorance of the Affordable Care Act. High rates of poverty and disease — which mark much of this state — don’t necessarily aid recruitment. Add the strident opposition of GOP leaders and enrollment gets that much tougher.
Haberkorn cherry picks a couple of positive stories where heavily subsidized consumers will save money under the Obamacare program, but totally ignores a major component of all the skepticism with the plan. Obamacare premiums in Mississippi are the third highest in the nation, only surpassed by Alaska and Wyoming. As of September 2013, a mid range plan cost $448 monthly, with costs expected to rise.
Governor Phil Bryant has already turned down Medicaid expansion, which would have burdened the state to the point of bankruptcy. Mississippi will hand over 20 percent of their entire state budget to Medicaid in 2014. That leaves less money for education, infrastructure, public safety and other essential budgetary items. While those enrolled in Medicaid has expanded in Mississippi since the 1970s, the overall health of Mississippians has declined.
Instead of reforming the root problems of health care in Mississippi, Obamacare is exacerbating a climate that is making healthcare less affordable and less accessible for most citizens. An estimated 5 millions Americans have lost their health insurance coverage because of Obamacare. As the federal government races towards its own budget crisis, the cost for states of partnering with Washington in the entitlement business is lethal.
Poverty and dependency in the Mississippi Delta is a complex problem. Like the systemic poverty of other regions, government programs hamper economic growth as well as the family and moral stability. It’s also not a region that can’t be painted with a broad brush as the author of the Politico piece does. It’s a problem best solved by Mississippians. The federal government and Obamacare has made a lot of promises to poorer states like Mississippi over the years and many of those problems have only grown worse. The entitlement relationship that states have with the federal government must be reversed. And some of the new leadership in the state is starting to take the necessary steps towards doing that for the first time.