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BILL CRAWFORD: Stark health needs get little attention from state leaders


Have Mississippi leaders become so accustomed to bottom national rankings that they don’t care anymore?

Take health rankings for example. Mississippi has ranked among the bottom three since 1990. You know it’s bad when the Mississippi State Department of Health posts on its web site, “Mississippi ranks last, or close to last, in almost every leading health outcome.”
Few state leaders probably spend any time trolling through health stats. Here’s a quick look. The stats are stark.
Consider death rates. Mississippi has the worst rate for infant mortality and ranks in the bottom three in death rates for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, septicemia, flu/pneumonia, kidney disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease according to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/nchs/index.htm).
Consider other health factors. America’s Health Rankings (www.americashealthrankings.org) puts Mississippi 50th in health for seniors and for physical inactivity, 49th in overall health, primary care physicians, and salmonella, 47th in obesity and infectious disease, 46th in chlamydia, and 45th in smoking. The National Center for Health Statistics shows Mississippi ranks worst in low birthweight and births to unmarried mothers. 
Consider health insurance. Census data shows Mississippi ranks 46th in the percentage of population with health insurance coverage (www.factfinder.census.gov).. About 12% have no insurance. Mississippi did not expand Medicaid under Obamacare and has one of the lowest thresholds for adults to qualify for Medicaid medical coverage.
Not an uplifting story.
In the face of these stark facts, what has been the response from our state leaders?
Gov. Phil Bryant has mainly focused on keeping a tight rein on Medicaid spending and eligibility, but he did call for expansion of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s doctor training programs and health care zones. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn have mostly focused on keeping health related costs “within budgetary means.” They slashed funding for the State Department of Health, cut funding for the state trauma system, cut funding for Medicaid, reduced funding to hospitals for indigent care, and cut funding for the state’s tobacco-free program.
Pretty clear the low health rankings had little impact on budget decisions, huh? 
Based on the rhetoric and actions of our state leaders, the solution to our low health rankings, along with our low rankings in education, infrastructure, economy, and opportunity (www.usnews.com), appears to be tax cuts. 
However, tax cuts won’t address critical health needs like this one: “The state trauma system is severely underfunded,” Mississippi Hospital Association president Tim Moore told the News Mississippi network. “We know that the state doesn’t have the money to fund additional care there, but it needs to be done, so how do we do that?” 
Things are likely to get worse before they get better.
PS – You can’t look into health disparities in Mississippi without noticing the significant disparities based on race. For African-Americans, infant mortality rates are 71% higher than for whites. Deaths are 24% higher for heart disease and 20% for cancer. The rate of chlamydia is six times that for whites, low birthweight 90% higher, and obesity 21% higher. The rate of uninsured persons is 13% higher. As for tax cuts, they mostly benefit non-African-Americans.
Crawford is syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com)


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