Those interested in improving health care in the state have long faced daunting opportunities. A number of conservative governors have denounced the cost of Medicaid, which is shared by the federal and state governments. Former Governor Haley Barbour, a Republican who served from 2004 to 2012, backed steep cuts to the program, including a divisive plan that was eventually blocked by a judge to remove 65,000 older adults and disabled people from Medicaid’s lists. He also suggested that people play the system.
“Forgive me if I think that people who have two or three jobs to pay for their families’ health care shouldn’t be forced to pay for health care for people who can work but choose not to to do, ”he said in 2011.
Barbour’s successor, Phil Bryant, torpedoed a state health insurance exchange that was supposed to be part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Mr Bryant said at the time that he did not want to support Obamacare, as the law is known, because he feared it would place heavy debts on the state related to Medicaid.
Mr Reeves and the Mississippi Legislature – like the legislatures in a dozen states with Republican-controlled state houses – continue to oppose the expansion of Medicaid, despite state health advocates again pushing for the program, who insist that money be removed from the program could possibly have helped Mississippi weather the pandemic better.
The Mississippi hospitals even proposed a plan that would cover the state government’s portion with a tax on the hospitals themselves and small monthly bonuses for those who would enroll.
In Hattiesburg, Phyllis Chambers-Berry, the chief nurse at Forrest General Hospital, said she believed the expansion of Medicaid before the pandemic would have put her hospital in a stronger position to deal with the Delta variant. Now that her hospital’s 50 intensive care beds are full, she said she hoped the state would send 26 contract workers that would allow the hospital to open 10 more beds.
These workers would be a fraction of what Forrest General actually needs. The hospital has 240 vacant foster positions, said Dr. Chambers-Berry. Of those who stay, she said, “I can tell by their faces – they are exhausted.”