Successful DeSoto County small businessman Robert Foster is one of the more conservative members of the Mississippi Legislature, e.g. the American Conservative Union gave him a 95% “conservative” rating in 2018.
Serving his first term as a state representative, Foster decided not to seek re-election but put his name on the ballot for governor. He said his experience these four years is the reason.
“Career politicians have been in charge for too long,” he said, adding that many are good people but get captured by the system over time. “I realized the same thing would happen to me if I stayed.” He argues this system maintains policies that “keep us in last place.”
Relying on his lens as a small businessman he sees education too focused on university transfer while what we need is more skills training in high school and community college. He sees the tax structure out of kilter and proposes replacing income taxes with use taxes. He sees incarceration policies unbalanced between violent criminals and non-violent criminals with drug addictions and mental health problems.
And, he sees the need for Medicaid reform to cover more low-income working people.
His Medicaid position comes from his own hiring experience at his agri-tourism business. Cedar Hill Farms hires people to grow crops like pumpkins, gourds, and Christmas trees. It hires people to operate and perform in family friendly activities and events. It hires people to sell farm produce and other items to the 50,000 agri-tourists who show up for the activities and events. Some hires are full-time but many are seasonal.
Foster said he sees too many hard working families unable to afford health insurance.
He is one of the few conservatives in the Legislature who has been willing to publicly consider reforming Medicaid to address this problem.
“What we do now is not conservative and is not working,” he says. He speaks favorably about a new Medicaid reform plan put out by the Mississippi Hospital Association called Mississippi Cares.
This plan would provide health insurance for low-income, able-bodied working adults and their dependents at no additional costs to the state. Instead, participants would pay low monthly premiums and some co-pays to help cover costs. Hospitals would pick up the remaining amount not covered by the federal government.
Projections show from 169,000 to 300,000 working families would receive affordable health insurance coverage. It would also encourage current Medicaid recipients to go to work. Under current policies, most lose coverage when they get a job.
Under this plan Mississippi hospitals would take on the responsibility for managing the care of new participants. That’s how hospitals would be able to cover its share of the costs. Instead of millions of dollars going to out-of-state insurance companies who manage the current Medicaid plans, most of that money would stay in state and go to cover program costs.
This, of course, is the most politically contentious part of the plan. With huge contributions to one of the other candidates for governor, additional contributions and connections to other key politicians, and well-paid lobbyists, these companies know how to win in the flawed system Foster wants to change.
At this point, few give Foster much chance to win the race for governor. But don’t be surprised if his small businessman perspective of how conservative government should work wins lots of converts.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicate columnist from Meridian.
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