Leaders are ignoring the Mississippi health care crisis. We aren’t.

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Leaders are ignoring the Mississippi health care crisis. We aren’t.

Mississippi’s crisis has reached a grim, catastrophic, inevitable point. 

Hospitals are closing, and many more are on the verge. Already sporadic health services are being slashed. Hundreds of thousands of Mississippians cannot afford the care they need. Too many people are dying.

Worst of all, our state’s leaders do not appear to be in any hurry to help.

In such bleak moments, it’s difficult not to ponder some “what-ifs.” Today could have been a day celebrated as a victory for Mississippi’s future — one that truly changed the trajectory of the state. An overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats alike would be headed to the polls, deciding to do for themselves what their elected officials have refused to do for more than a decade: expand .

Expanding Medicaid, as 38 other states have done and two more are poised to do, would immediately address some of the most urgent aspects of the crisis. It would provide health care for hundreds of thousands of poor, working Mississippians who can’t afford trips to the doctor for basic care or emergencies. It would give an immediate shot in the arm to the dozens of hospitals that are struggling to balance budgets and keep their doors open. It would bring our poorest-in-the-nation state more than $1 billion in new revenue every year. It would create tens of thousands of new jobs, and it would save countless lives and livelihoods.

But there will be no such celebration today.

Last year, the handed down an unprecedented ruling that killed Mississippi’s ballot initiative process, which gave voters the direct power to change laws. That broadly unpopular court decision halted a bipartisan campaign to collect signatures to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot this November. And state legislative leaders — many of the same ones who have rejected Medicaid expansion for more than 10 years — broke their promises to restore that power to voters.

Since we launched in 2016, Mississippi Today has proudly held elected officials accountable and provided Mississippians with the information they need to do the same. For months, our health care and political reporters have closely covered the growing crisis and its effects. But no issue warrants more focused, intensive scrutiny than our leaders’ inaction during this time.

So this week, we are launching a long-term project that focuses on the imminent crisis and potential solutions to it — including Medicaid expansion.

More than a dozen Mississippi Today staffers have been working on this project for several weeks. We will be thorough and independent, tough and fair. But above all else, we will be dogged in our pursuit of truth.

Our project will, first and foremost, thoroughly define the extent of the Mississippi health care crisis. It will show how hundreds of thousands of working Mississippians cannot afford the basic preventative care that keeps the more costly hospital visits and debilitating personal debt at bay. It will show how Mississippi has more rural hospitals at immediate risk of closing than any state in the nation and what that means for so many communities across the state. It will show how the state’s abysmally low investment in public health negatively affects every Mississippian, even those who have private health insurance and can get the care they need.

We will also define what, exactly, Medicaid is. The federal policy is wonky and incredibly difficult to understand. The term “Medicaid expansion” itself has become weaponized by opportunistic politicians, used as a smoke screen to avoid talking earnestly about its merits. We aim to cut through the jargon and political noise to show the direct effects of the policy, how it could change lives across the state, and what the state could stand to gain by passing it.

And perhaps most importantly, we will squarely confront the politics of the crisis. Even as cries for state intervention have grown on both sides of the political aisle, a handful of elected officials have seemingly decided it is not worthy of focus. They regularly invoke the name of former President Barack Obama, who championed the federal health care program in question, as the chief reason not to expand Medicaid. They disregard nonpartisan economic studies that show the enormous benefits to the state. Too often, they have even seemingly ignored the health care crisis itself.

Many of these elected officials have consistently said they don’t believe the state can afford to expand Medicaid. We will always listen to and share their explanations for that, and we will seek to better understand them. But we cannot ignore appropriate context from state and national experts who have datasets that show otherwise. And we will talk with elected officials in other states — including leaders in dozens of red states that have expanded Medicaid — about how their decision is working out for them.

We hope our journalism will force our state’s leaders to at least acknowledge and reckon with the health care challenges we all face. Beyond that, we will respectfully press them with questions about possible solutions.

Some will question the timing of this project. Lawmakers typically ignore addressing major issues in legislative sessions during major statewide election years, like in 2023. From our perspective, there is no better time to pose these questions than during an election year. 

Others will accuse us of partisanship or advocacy. An important reality we will consider daily as we serve the public: A vast majority of Mississippians, regardless of political leaning, support expanding health care access to poor, working people. A vast majority of Mississippians support accepting federal funding to help keep hospitals open. And no one can question that every Mississippian wants a better future for their children and for themselves.

One year from now, when all 174 legislative seats and eight statewide offices are on the ballot, every voter will have the ability to intimately understand where their leaders stand on the health care crisis and what they have done — or not done — to address it. We’ll make sure of it.

If you have questions, suggestions, or comments about this project, contact editor-in-chief Adam Ganucheau at adam@mississippitoday.org.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.