In Mississippi politics, there seems to be a recurring pattern. This can be seen in the contrast between Haley Barbour’s criticism of Ronnie Musgrove’s expansion of the state’s welfare system during the 2003 gubernatorial campaign and Musgrove’s pride in increasing enrollment in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP is a federal program that provides health insurance to children of the working poor who do not qualify for Medicaid. Musgrove believed that increasing enrollment in CHIP was beneficial for children who would otherwise be uninsured, with the majority of the cost being covered by the federal government.
Fast forward twenty years later, and Democratic candidate Brandon Pressley is focusing his campaign on Medicaid expansion while challenging incumbent Republican Governor Tate Reeves. Pressley argues that expanding Medicaid and having the federal government cover most of the costs, as other states have done, would be more beneficial. Reeves, influenced by Haley Barbour, opposes the expansion of government-run health care and believes that well-paying jobs should provide health insurance instead of government programs. However, despite not expanding Medicaid for a decade and waiting for high-paying jobs, Mississippi still has one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the nation.
As of 2021, Mississippi’s uninsured rate is 11.9%, higher than states like Texas, Florida, and Tennessee that Reeves admires for their lack of state income tax. The national uninsured rate is 8.6%. Out of the three Southeastern states that expanded Medicaid, only Arkansas has a slightly higher rate of uninsured people. It is worth noting that even in states with Medicaid expansion, some healthy individuals still choose not to purchase health insurance. However, it is generally better to have more people insured, especially for struggling healthcare providers like hospitals. In Medicaid expansion states, there is an option to help uninsured individuals enroll in Medicaid, particularly when they require expensive medical procedures that they cannot afford.
The governors of the three Southern states that expanded Medicaid have expressed their belief that Medicaid is a better payment option for these procedures than shifting costs to private insurance and individuals. This is significant because healthcare providers, especially hospitals, are facing financial challenges due to the high cost of uncompensated care. Former Governor John Bell Williams recognized the importance of Medicaid in addressing these issues when he convinced Congress to opt into the original Medicaid program for Mississippi in 1969, despite initially opposing its creation as a member of Congress. In a speech to lawmakers, he emphasized the practicality and benefit of participating in the program for the country and its people.
Interestingly, despite Barbour’s criticism of the CHIP program during his campaign, he did not take any action to repeal it during his time as governor. This highlights the sense of déjà vu in Mississippi politics, where certain issues resurface over time.