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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Mississippians deserve expansion of Medicaid and government that cares

An+ambulance+sits+vacant+in+the+ambulance+bay+at+OCH.
Ivy Rose Ball | The Reflector

An ambulance sits vacant in the ambulance bay at OCH.

I spent my summer in the rural emergency room of a small regional hospital in southwest Mississippi. I wiped butts of all ages, stocked exam rooms daily and helped the ER’s healthcare providers in the best ways I knew how. 
I was told I could expect to come back next summer. Of course, this is Mississippi, and there is a not-so-small chance that this hospital will not survive to next summer.  
It was the busiest day of the past two months. Ambulances kept piling in, dumping the sick into our beds, heading right back out to answer more calls. Nurses were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, and as the only technician working that day, I ran myself ragged trying to keep up with the flood.
“Well, at least you get to escape early,” a coworker of mine said.
Upon hearing that my hours had been cut and that I would be leaving them at 3 p.m., another coworker frantically dialed the extension to our supervisor’s office. 
“We need her to stay. We’re being run over in here,” she said. 
They would not budge. They could not pay me the overtime it would have required. I left 30 minutes later, watching as yet another ambulance pulled up to the sliding doors.
Mississippi hospitals have been getting run over for a long time now. Costs of treating patients continue to rise, while the amount of money paid for each patient has risen only slightly or not at all. 
In an article detailing Northeast Mississippi Health Services’ extensive staff layoffs, the Daily Journal reported that “payment per patient is up 12.31% from three years ago while cost per patient is up 21.26%.” 
Richard Williams, CEO of Field Health System in Centreville, Mississippi, was able to expand on the issue.
“Our costs keep going up, but insurance rates, what hospitals get paid, keep either staying the same or even going down. There are restrictions on how we have to get approved for insurance, and then how we’re paid. There’s a lot of times that, until we provide the necessary documentation, things are denied, and we have to fight for that money, even though we provided the care already,” Williams said. 
The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid, allowing more Americans to get coverage. 41 states have allowed the expansion. Mississippi has not.
Gov. Tate Reeves has been staunchly anti-expansion, but he recently announced an initiative to change the Mississippi Hospital Access Program to allow for a higher payout to hospitals from insurance companies. The change would give some much-needed cash to hospitals while still not expanding Medicaid coverage.
Reeves has been in office since Jan. 14, 2020. There is an election, in which he recently was polling at 46% to his opponent’s 45%, which will take place on Nov. 7 of this year. The initiative was announced 47 days before the election.
Reeves’ opponent, current Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, has made the healthcare crisis in Mississippi one of his biggest talking points. He has promised to make expanding Medicaid for Mississippians one of his first moves upon assuming office. 
“It’s a hot-button issue, definitely something that both parties are pushing. This recent announcement, the new money that Reeves promised, is a big deal. It helps us, and we appreciate it very much, but expanding Medicaid would help us more,” Williams said of the situation. 
There remains no doubt that the situation is dire. The Center for Healthcare Quality & Payment Reform released a report in July 2023 claiming 42% of rural hospitals in the state are at risk of closing. Of course, the situation gets even scarier when one remembers that there are already so many healthcare deserts in Mississippi – the Delta being one example.
Reflecting on my time working in a hospital is bittersweet. I was given an enormous opportunity to expose myself to patient care in an impactful way. I learned more in those two months than I have learned at any previous job. 
However, caring for these patients meant involving myself in the situation. I cannot turn a blind eye to the horrific state of the healthcare system any longer. I can confidently and without a doubt say that if these hospitals close, thousands of people will be without any halfway decent form of healthcare. 
What happens when the next car wreck on my side of Interstate 55 piles up? Where will these ambulances take the sick? Will they go straight to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, which is an hour and a half from the area? Do they go East, to Forrest General in Hattiesburg, also an hour and a half away?
My community is not one of a kind. People across the state are experiencing the same worries. The fact of the matter is, without any real help given to our hospitals, people will die. 
“We’re pretty much the lifeblood in these two counties. We have over 200 employees. We are primary healthcare for our communities here. The people that work here, the people that live here, they want hospitals here and others like ours to do well,” Williams said when asked about the popularity of expansion.
Expanding Medicaid is not a partisan issue. According to a Mississippi Today/Siena College poll, 80% of Mississippians are pro-expansion. That breaks down into 95% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans.
We are facing a public health crisis that should be unheard of in a developed nation. Infant mortality in Mississippi sits at a national high of 9.39 per 1000 births. Libya currently has a rate of 8.975 per 1000.
Mississippians deserve better. They deserve a government that will fight for them, for their hopes and dreams as well as their well-being. They deserve more than last-ditch efforts to win votes, more than a halfway thought-out plan pitched 47 days before the election. They deserve healthcare.

About the Contributor
Lucy Hallmark, Opinion Editor
Lucy Hallmark is a sophomore biochemistry major from Summit, Mississippi. She currently serves as the Opinion Editor. [email protected]
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Mississippians deserve expansion of Medicaid and government that cares