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The state of health insurance in Mississippi

There are a multitude of opinions on the issue that cover a multitude of subjects



From spirited and often-contentious town hall meetings to water cooler conversations at work, the debate over healthcare reform rages on across the nation.

Lawmakers have heard arguments on both sides regarding President Barack Obama’s goals for healthcare reform. Those with adequate insurance and access to care do not want blanket change and those with serious ailments are looking for relief. 

One sticking point for healthcare reform is the so-called “public option,” which has been defined by some as a concept whereby the federal government establishes what is essentially a public insurance company.

“We oppose a government-run public option,” said Vicksburg physician Randy Easterling, who is president of the 3,800-member Mississippi State Medical Association.  “I think most folks realize healthcare in this country needs tweaking, but an insurance company run by the government is not the answer.”

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney agreed with Easterling’s assessment about the nation’s healthcare system.

“Healthcare needs to have some reform, but usually the factor left out of the debate is the patient,” said Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney. “Patients have very little input on the cost of their healthcare or the cost of their insurance.”

Chaney stressed that the Department of Insurance does not regulate insurance rates in Mississippi.

“Our job is to make sure companies have a proper surplus (of funds) to pay claims and not overcharge their customers,” he said.  “We do regulate insurance agents and certain cancer policies, if they exceed a certain percentage.”        

According to United Health Foundation’s 2008 Health Rankings, Mississippi holds the 49th position when it comes to the nation’s health systems.  The rankings report cites several factors contributing to the poor healthcare system, including low public health funding, high crime rate, a higher prevalence of smoking and a higher percentage of children in poverty.

“We are the most obese state in the union — poor lifestyles, including obesity and smoking, affect health insurance rates in Mississippi,” said Chaney, a former state legislator. 

The State of Mississippi, with more than two million residents, offers both private-market and public health insurance alternatives.  The private-market health insurance consists of various types of health plans, including family, Medicare supplemental, short-term, student, group and dental.  

Additionally, the state and federal government-sponsored programs provide economical health coverage to the uninsurable that meet specific eligibility requirements of age and income.  

In the United States, it’s estimated that nearly 47 million people are uninsured, among whom most of them are working families.  Many families, especially children, become the victim of financial catastrophes due to the lack of proper health coverage.

The Mississippi Insurance Department manages and administers all kinds of health insurance sold through private market health insurers as well as public health coverage programs.  However, nearly 20 percent of the state’s population is still uninsured.       

Those in favor of healthcare reform say that insurance providers in Mississippi lose over $826 million in bad debt that is passed along to families in the form of a hidden premium “tax.”  They say health insurance reform will tackle the financial burden by improving the health care system and covering the uninsured, allowing the 95 hospitals and over 6,000 physicians in the state to better care for their patients.

Congressman Bennie Thompson, who is currently serving his eighth term for Mississippi’s Second District, said the support for healthcare reform goes beyond dollars and cents.

“It’s appalling that in my district alone there are about 165,000 uninsured individuals,” he said.  “For some of us, healthcare reform is more than just saving money, it’s about saving lives.”

John Sewell, director of corporate communications for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi, said it’s too early to tell what effect, if any, healthcare reform would have on the company or the insurance industry.

“There’s really no way to determine what impact it will have if (reform legislation) passes,” he said.  “It’s quite simple — we believe that all Mississippians should have access to quality healthcare options.”


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