Traffic fatalities are down 10 percent in Mississippi.

53 views – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-10-04 21:00:46

Amir Mehrara Molan, Civil Engineering.  Photo by Kevin Bain/The University of Mississippi Marketing Communications

Mississippi has the second-largest traffic rate in the U.S. this year to 2021.

Mississippi traffic fatalities for the first six months of 2021 were approximately 380 during the pandemic. This year, the total so far 341, according to the U.S. Department Of Transportation.

Amir Molan, an assistant professor of civil engineering, who specializes in highway safety and traffic analysis at the University of Mississippi, said last year’s numbers were higher for several reason, including that during the pandemic last year, the average speed increased, more people driving…

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US job openings sink as economy slows, cost to borrow rises

50 views – WXXV Staff – 2022-10-04 14:11:55

Help Wanted
Help wanted sign is displayed in Deerfield, Ill., Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of available jobs in the U.S. plummeted in August with July as businesses grow less desperate for workers, a trend that could cool chronically high inflation.

That is good for the Federal Reserve in its efforts to bring down high prices without plunging the economy into a recession. The government jobs report released Tuesday also showed that layoffs remained historically low, even after a modest increase in August. And overall…

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IHL board president calls presidential search at USM a ‘sacred’ responsibility 


IHL board president calls presidential search at USM a ‘sacred’ responsibility 

HATTIESBURG – The auditorium grew quiet as members of the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees waited for people in the audience to take the mic at the University of Southern Mississippi. 

Tom Duff – a USM alumnus, one of the wealthiest Mississippians and this year’s president of the IHL board – broke the silence.

“This is kind of like church,” he quipped from the stage of the Joe Paul Theater. 

Tom Duff, the president of the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees, leads a listening session for the presidential search at University of Southern Mississippi on Oct. 3, 2022.

The comment illustrated the fervent tenor of Wednesday’s two listening sessions, the first step in the process IHL will use to appoint a successor to Rodney Bennett, USM’s tenth president who stepped down earlier this year. 

Out of about 400 attendees, nearly 55 students, faculty, staff and alumni addressed the trustees, using words like “advocate,” “passionate” and “grit” to describe the qualities they’d like to see in the next top administrator at USM. 

As far as many speakers were concerned, IHL doesn’t need to go far to find its next president. Several told trustees they wanted Joe Paul, the interim president, to lead the university permanently. He was repeatedly likened to Aubrey Lucas, who many consider one of USM’s most beloved presidents.

“We need someone who has Southern Miss in their soul,” said Toby Barker, the mayor of Hattiesburg. “We’ve had that in the last three months with Dr. Paul. You only need to look at the positive effect that Dr. Paul has had since arriving on campus.” 

Several speakers used metaphors to convey their aspirations for the university and its next president. 

The president of the student government association told trustees she’d like a president who knows that “Southern Miss is a destination … not a layover.” A well-known supporter of the baseball team remarked that USM has “a good story to tell, but what we need is a storyteller for our president.” 

“I believe Southern Miss is at a crossroads,” said state Rep. Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg. 

In his nine years as president, Bennett had a historic tenure at USM. The first Black president of the predominantly white university, he grew enrollment to more than 14,000 students, helped attain top-tier research status, and twice raised wages for the lowest-paid workers on campus. 

While no one blamed Bennett by name, nearly every speaker suggested that USM had not seen its best days under the former president – a perception not always born out by data. 

Multiple speakers said they felt that enrollment had declined at the university since the start of the pandemic, but IHL’s numbers show the total student population has actually held steady from fall 2019 to fall 2021

Nonetheless, some speakers told trustees they’d like the next president to prioritize recruitment, specifically at schools like Jackson Academy and in the Clinton and Madison districts.

USM could increase recruitment by improving support for sororities and fraternities, many speakers suggested. At USM, significantly less students – about an estimated 1,600 – are members of sororities and fraternities to Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi, where Greek-affiliated students number more than 5,000. 

“The future president may not be Greek, and that’s totally understandable, but I would definitely encourage you all to seek the importance of our Greek community,” said Betsy Mercier, a recent graduate and the advisor for USM’s Delta Delta Delta chapter. 

As the smallest of Mississippi’s three top-tier research universities, multiple speakers said they felt USM has long received the short end of the stick compared to its peers – University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University – in terms of funding and prestige. 

“I knew that throughout my professional career, that I was – especially being in Mississippi, that because I did not have an birthright or a Mississippi State birthright, I was going to have to work longer and harder than everyone else,” Dave Estorge, a member of the alumni board, said. “I got a chip on my shoulder, always have.” 

Billy Hewes, the mayor of , told trustees he believes IHL has an “institutional bias” against USM. He said he thought the board had chances in the past to give USM a leader like Mark Keenum or Robert Khayat, but that trustees chose not to. 

“Ten years ago we had that opportunity,” Hewes said. “You had some good candidates, including our interim president, who is showing an enthusiasm we haven’t seen in a decade. And so, it is incumbent on this board to find somebody who has those attributes, who can do for Southern Miss what we’ve seen done at other schools, and get us back to where we desire to be.” 

Many students, faculty and staff emphasized the importance of increasing diversity at USM. About 61% of students at USM are white and 27% are Black – that has barely changed since 2013, Bennett’s first year in office. 

Fred Varnado, the former director of continuing education, said he wanted the next president to “ensure there is diversity in the cabinet.” 

Tegi Jenkins-Rimmer, an alumnus and the assistant director of programming, put it this way: “What matters to me in a president now is the same thing that mattered to me when I came to Southern Miss years ago – a president who cares about faculty, staff and students who look like me.” 

“We need a president who is willing to give us a voice and a seat at the table,” she added. 

Heidi Moore, a first-generation student pursuing a masters in higher education administration, said she wanted to speak to trustees from “a different perspective, a poor perspective.” 

“There have been moments when Southern Miss has taught me I belong in one area and I don’t get to go anywhere else,” she said. “USM has also taught me liberation, critical thinking skills. I want someone who is so vulnerable, transparent, brave, courageous – someone who sees everyone.” 

USM’s next president will need to boost morale among faculty and staff, several speakers said. 

Maurine Pace, a staff member in the Office of Research Administration, said that nearly a dozen of her coworkers have left in recent years for remote, better-paying jobs with other university systems. 

“The crisis is here today, it’s not two years down the road – it’s here,” a faculty member said.  

Denis Wiesenburg, the president of the faculty senate, likened the relationship he’d like to see between faculty and the president to “a dance … with the administration being the prom committee.” 

Other repeated themes in speakers’ comments included donor relations, fundraising and economic development. One teaching professor said she’d like a president who would champion a technological innovation comparable to the development of Gatorade at the University of Florida. 

Mac Alford, a professor of biological sciences, said he had a different take on the importance of fundraising. The former faculty senate president said he wanted a president who would fight for more public funding, not for private dollars. To make his point to the trustees, he recalled a cabinet meeting when Bennett announced USM had been approved to increase tuition. 

“I realize that’s important in terms of the budget, but we are a public institution,” he said. “If we have public goals in this state, we need people in Jackson, and we need you people at the Legislature, arguing … the importance of this institution as a public institution. Because if we’re going to get 10% of our money from the state of Mississippi, we don’t need you guys. We need our own board.” 

According to IHL data, USM has increased annual tuition by more than $1,000 since fiscal year 2018, from $8,108 to $9,203 – nearly one-fifth the median household income in Mississippi. This trend is not unique to USM as each of the state’s eight public universities have had to raise tuition rates as legislative funding has not recovered since the Great Recession.

Chuck Scianna, a USM alumnus and founder of an oil drilling equipment company, addresses the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees on Oct. 3, 2022.

Chuck Scianna, a 1975 alumnus and founder of an oil drilling equipment company, said he viewed higher education as an “investment” and wanted a president with a similar corporate mindset. 

“That’s the way I look at it – as a business, not an institution,” Scianna said. “You’re a board of shareholders. Even though we are a public institution, public funds don’t make up 100% of our budget – not here, not anywhere.”

Scianna joked that since Paul became interim president, “I can’t get his hand out of my back pocket.” 

In remarks at both sessions, Duff, the IHL board member, said he wanted the community to know the board is committed to a “transparent” search process. He added the trustees will use the comments from the listening session to create a “draft profile” of the community’s ideal candidate – proof the trustees’ would take speakers seriously. 

“Oftentimes, IHL is painted by the media and the people as perhaps not caring,” Duff said. 

READ MORE: After controversial Ole Miss chancellor search, powerful lawmaker aims to limit governor’s IHL appointment power

As he spoke, IHL sent out a press release announcing the names of 15 students, professors and alumni who will advise the trustees during the search, including Hewes, Scianna and the SGA president. 

IHL has also hired Academic Search, a national firm that is familiar with USM, to assist with the process. 

“The enthusiasm and level of desire is evidence to each of us,” Duff said. “This is a very solemn and, candidly, a sacred responsibility on our part.” 

The trustees will hold another listening session Tuesday at USM’s branch campus in . Members of the public are invited to submit comments for the next nine days at IHL’s website

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

Fitch settled Katrina cases for pennies on the dollar compared to others


AG Lynn Fitch settled Katrina insurance cases for pennies on the dollar compared to others

Lynn Fitch has quietly settled Mississippi’s claims against insurance companies over damages for pennies on the dollar to a similar federal case and those settled by her predecessor.

In 2015, former Attorney General Jim Hood and outside attorneys filed a to recoup state funds that were awarded to homeowners when the insurance companies did not meet what Hood argued was their legal obligation. After Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast in 2005, insurance companies refused to pay or paid only limited amounts on many claims of homeowners, saying their damage was caused by water not wind and their policies did not cover flood damage.

The state created the Homeowner Assistance Program to help make those homeowners “whole.” Through that program, the state paid $2.03 billion to homeowners for damages. But, according to the lawsuits, many of those damages should have been covered by insurance companies that denied paying damages or limited payouts, citing water damage when in reality the damage was caused by wind. That could have saved the state tens of millions in public funds to be spent on recovery efforts or elsewhere.

In a similar federal case, where the federal flood insurance program accused State Farm of failing to pay for wind damage and instead foisting it off on the National Flood Insurance Program, State Farm agreed to pay the federal government $100 million. But Fitch settled the state’s wind vs. water case with State Farm — which held the most policies of any insurer on the Coast in Katrina — for $12 million.

Before leaving office as attorney general in 2020, Hood settled three of the lawsuits – against insurers Metropolitan, American Security and Balboa. The three lawsuits, covering 652 policyholders, were settled for a total of $6.78 million, or $10,410 per policyholder. Since then, Fitch has settled five of the lawsuits, including the largest against State Farm and Allstate, for a cumulative $21.9 million, or $1,441 per policyholder.

When asked about the settlement discrepancies, Michelle Williams, Fitch’s chief of staff, said in a statement: “I cannot answer some of your questions because we still have pending litigation and your questions involve litigation strategy. But, I will note that the Federal/NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program) case involves different issues, different facts, and different laws from our state case even though the underlying event of Hurricane Katrina is the same.”

One case, against PRIME Insurance, is still pending finalization.

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said he supported the settlement of the lawsuits to bring stability to the insurance market in the state.

“I am glad they got settled,” he said. “I have a stable market unlike what is happening in Florida, Louisiana and Texas” with their insurance markets.

Despite Williams’ and Chaney’s defense, some question whether Fitch should have gotten better settlements for the state.

“Because she is a Republican, Attorney General Fitch is probably cozier with the insurance companies than were her two predecessors,” said David Baria, a attorney and former Democratic state lawmaker who last week won $10 million in punitive damages against USAA insurance company in a similar case where the insurance company was accused of using deceptive practices to avoid or delay paying a claim.

While the jury awarded the estate of Sylvia Minor $10 million in punitive damages and $1.5 million in compensatory damages, Fitch settled the state case involving hundreds of other homeowners with the same USAA for $1.4 million.

Private attorneys contracted with Hood to assist on the case, who receive a percentage of any settlement but nothing if they do not prevail, declined comment on the settlements.

But Baria, who was not involved in the state cases, said a person could compare what the jury awarded in his case and what was awarded in a similar federal case ($100 million) “and “reach your own conclusion” about whether the Fitch settlements were too low.

Chip Merlin is founder of the Merlin Law Group, one of the largest national firms representing policyholders in disputes with insurance companies. His firm handled hundreds of Katrina policyholder claims, including many in Mississippi, all of which have been resolved. Like many others across the country, Merlin was keeping tabs on pending cases, including the state of Mississippi’s lawsuits over the Homeowner Assistance Program.

Merlin said, “I was as surprised as anybody else,” when he learned from recent reports that most of the outstanding state litigation had been quietly settled starting more than a year ago, with the Mississippi AG’s office issuing no press statements or releases or posting on its website. Merlin said this shows a great lack of transparency for cases brought on behalf of the public.

“I almost fell out of my chair,” Merlin said. “How come we didn’t know about it? That’s a public lawsuit … That impacts the public treasury and there should be some explanation why elected officials thought this was in the best interest of Mississippi.”

Merlin said he can’t opine whether the $12 million settlement with State Farm and other settlements were fair for taxpayers because “we don’t know enough about it — that’s the problem.”

“It’s just very weird the state would settle a year before and nobody know,” Merlin said. “… It calls for the attorney general to say something. I’ve never heard of a settlement involving a public entity being secret … It’s supposed to be on behalf of everybody for the state. If it wasn’t favorable to the state, then the matter should continue on. If it was favorable, you would think elected officials would explain why.”

In terms of transparency, Merlin said it is also unusual that there is a strict non-disclosure clause in the state settlements since the agreements involved public/state funds. Similar language was not in the contracts negotiated by Hood.

Citing pending litigation, Fitch’s office refused to comment on the need for the non-disclosure clause. The attorney general’s office required Mississippi Today and the Sun Herald, which first reported on the State Farm settlement, to submit public records requests to ascertain the settlement amounts. Normally, the AG’s office sends out news releases when settling or winning lawsuits.

As to some companies who settled before Fitch took over for more money per policy, Merlin said: “If similar conduct was going on, then the issue is why did you get so much more against the other companies and less against State Farm?

“I do have to applaud the former attorney general for bringing the litigation in the first place,” Merlin said. “Many times attorneys general don’t bring these actions. It might be difficult, suing big insurance companies.”

Merlin also commented on Mississippi’s Homeowner Assistance Program, which he said was well run and helped thousands of families.

“Mississippi did a great job of getting the money out and taking care of citizens,” Merlin said, “especially compared to Louisiana … I’ve been around to a lot of storms and a lot of states, and nobody ever says the good things, but Mississippi officials did a fantastic job with that.”

State Farm recently agreed to pay the federal government $100 million to settle long-running litigation in federal court, involving two former employee “whistleblowers.” A jury in the case had found that State Farm defrauded the National Flood Insurance Program by charging it for flood damage to a policyholder’s home when the destruction was caused by wind. State Farm’s policies covered wind damage but not flood, which is covered by NFIP. The whistleblowers claimed the company shifted wind damages it should have covered to the federal flood program.

After Katrina, Mississippi received billions in federal block grant funds for Katrina recovery. The state created the Homeowners Assistance Program to provide homeowners grants for flood damage. Thousands of homeowners, who had long been told they did not need federal flood insurance, saw destruction or major damage to their homes by Katrina’s unprecedented .

Mississippi, with its litigation, claimed insurers let the state Homeowner Assistance Program pay people for wind damages that should have been covered by their private insurance policies. The state was suing for damages and money collected from the litigation would go into state coffers.

Hood claimed insurance companies caused Mississippi to pay millions of dollars the state could have otherwise used for other recovery efforts.

“State Farm took advantage of our program by causing HAP to pay for wind losses that State Farm should have covered under its homeowner policies,” Hood said at the time. “Remarkably, State Farm and other insurers walked away from Hurricane Katrina and experienced record profits in the years following, while Mississippi continues to suffer.”

State Farm spokesman Roszell Gadson had little comment when asked about the company’s $12 million settlement with Mississippi. The company has denied wrongdoing in any of its Katrina litigation.

“While State Farm is pleased to have reached a settlement in this matter, the settlement is not an admission that State Farm did anything wrong,” Gadson said. “That is all we have to share.”

According to the lawsuit originally filed by Hood, the state paid State Farm policyholders through HAP $522.1 million, or on average $76,673 per policyholder. By comparison, State Farm paid $98.7 million or on average $14,494 per policyholder.

The largest case settled by Hood before he left office was with Metropolitan Property. Hood settled that case for $4.75 million. Metropolitan paid 429 customers, on average, $8,796. HAP paid $39.2 million, or on average $90,488. Hood settled American Security for $1.35 million. HAP paid 115 American Security policyholders $71 million or $57,070 per customer. By comparison American Security paid $1.2 million or $5,491 per policyholder.

Chaney said the settlement amounts Hood garnered were higher because at least one of the companies wanted to settle quickly so that the lawsuit would not hinder its efforts to merge with another company.

Chaney said all of the settlements were negotiated by Maison Heidelberg, a Jackson attorney who was one of the attorneys hired by Hood to work on the case. Chaney said the methodology used by Hood in filing the original lawsuits were flawed. He said the lawsuits filed by Hood claimed that the insurance companies were not providing proper payouts for 70% of the claimants when in reality it might have been only 700 or 800.

“Then you had people getting $150,000 grants … (through HAP) and coming back and trying to double dip and get money from the insurance companies,” he said.

Heidelberg, along with other private attorneys involved in the cases, declined comment.

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

State employee pay trails neighboring states, private sector


State employee pay trails neighboring states, private sector

The average state of Mississippi employee has worked for the state for almost 10 years and earns less than the average of all Mississippi workers and woefully less than their counterparts in the four contiguous states, according to information compiled by the state Personnel Board.

While Gov. Tate Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, Speaker Phillip Gunn and other political leaders boast of unprecedented revenue collections and surpluses, the buying power of state workers is going backward. The governor, in particular, touts the strong fiscal condition of the state while seemingly ignoring issues like the salary levels of state employees.

“Inflation has risen every month in the last 18 to 20 months.,” state Personnel Board Executive Director Hardwick said this week on Mississippi Today’s “The Other Side” podcast. “… And so, looking at it, you know, a dollar that an employee was spending a year ago is worth about 90 cents now, 91, somewhere around there. So how do you counterbalance that? And that’s by increasing the salaries.”

Providing such a raise would require legislative action in the 2023 session. During a recent legislative meeting, Hosemann broached the idea of a pay raise. At the meeting, Hardwick told legislative leaders that in the coming weeks he would offer them suggestions on pay increases – such as one-year raise of around 5% or smaller multi-year raises.

The fact of the matter is that because of Mississippi’s record tax collections and surpluses, legislators have the money to provide a meaningful raise – even more than 5%. The question is whether they have the will to do so.

The irony is that those record tax collections are attributable in a large part to inflation. Because of inflation, salaries – in the private sector, at least – have risen, providing the state more tax revenue. And because of inflation, the cost of retail items has risen, meaning the state’s 7% tax on retail items generates more revenue.

One of the retail items impacted the most by inflation has been groceries. And the state’s regressive 7% tax on groceries, the highest of its kind in the nation, means inflation is helping to fill Mississippi coffers more than those of any other state. There is an argument that those grocery tax collections should be returned to those most impacted by the regressive tax, such as the poor and middle class – and perhaps even to state employees in the form of a pay increase.

Besides inflation, there also is the point that Mississippi state workers earn less than those in the private sector, according to numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hardwick said that should not be happening because the private sector includes the types of jobs that do not exist in the public sector, such as service and retail jobs that are normally lower paying.

“If you did the math, apples to apples with the private sector, they (state employees) should be making about $50,000,” Hardwick said.

When comparing Mississippi state workers to those in neighboring states, Arkansas is the closest at $50,394 per year – almost $7,000 more than in Mississippi. Louisiana state workers on average earn $52,592 while Tennessee’s is the highest at $61,261.

Still, state workers in Mississippi must be working harder. There are currently 23,561 state employees under state Personnel Board regulations compared to 26,525 in 2018. It should be pointed out that in addition to the workers who fall under the purview of the Personnel Board, there also are public school teachers, public universities and colleges staff and faculty. Adding all of those together, there are nearly 85,000 state workers, including a tiny fraction in the offices of elected officials who work at the pleasure of their bosses. Workers with state Personnel Board purview have civil service protection and cannot be fired without cause.

The startling number is that over the last 10 years the state workforce – those with civil service protection such as prison guards, administrators at , direct care workers at Mental Health, social workers in Child Protection Services – has decreased by 24% or by 7,500.

Thus far the Legislature has chosen not to offset those reductions in the workforce by providing significant raises to make the state workers more competitive with employees in the private sector and with those in neighboring states.

Whether that will change in 2023 remains to be seen. But Hosemann and other legislative leaders are talking about it.

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

Sumrall man drops Blue Cross, fundraises to afford liver transplant


Sumrall man drops Blue Cross, fundraises to afford liver transplant

Bill Meredith of Sumrall was hospitalized 10 times in 2021.  

In September of last year, he passed out in the shower. The next thing he knew, he woke up in a hospital bed with no clothes.

The cause of most of those visits – and loss of consciousness – was hepatic encephalopathy. Hepatic encephalopathy is a nervous system disorder brought on by severe liver disease. Meredith’s liver doesn’t properly filter toxins, and as a result, they build up in his blood and travel to his brain. 

His hospitalization in December was the final straw for Meredith. He took a medical leave from his job, which he felt he could no longer adequately perform. 

A doctor he was seeing in Hattiesburg referred him to the in Jackson, where he began seeing a team of specialists that helped him get the medicine he needed to decrease his frequent hospitalizations. He was put on the transplant list for a new liver on March 16.

But just two weeks later, on April 1, UMMC, which houses the state’s only organ transplant center, went out of network with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi, Meredith’s insurance company and the state’s largest private insurer. 

Meredith was paying close to $800 a month to keep his Blue Cross health insurance while on medical leave under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, commonly known as COBRA. 

When UMMC went out of network, Meredith and other transplant candidates who have Blue Cross were marked as “inactive.” The status change means the candidate stays on the list, but if his or her organ match becomes available in the time frame the hospital is out of network, the candidate won’t be getting a call.

UMMC and Blue Cross are at odds over reimbursement rates and Blue Cross’ quality care plan, which measures hospital performance and whether services provided to patients are adequate. UMMC officials say they are underpaid by Blue Cross to other academic medical centers in the region, while Blue Cross leaders say UMMC’s request is unreasonable and would necessitate an increase in member premiums. 

The stalemate between the two has left tens of thousands of Mississippians in the lurch — particularly those who receive care at UMMC that they cannot get elsewhere in Mississippi.

Emails between officials with the Mississippi Insurance Department, UMMC and Blue Cross show failed attempts on the part of Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney to get UMMC and Blue Cross to agree on a “single case agreement” on at least one occasion.

“As Insurance Commissioner, I have an additional request to make on Mr. (redacted) behalf. Please work to enter a single case agreement that will shield Mr. (redacted) from any excess charges above and beyond his standard cost-sharing responsibilities,” Chaney wrote to UMMC and Blue Cross attorneys on May 13.  “This single case approach will allow Mr. (redacted) to receive the life-saving (redacted) he so desperately needs without depleting his life savings and without him having to travel long distances to have the procedure done in a location where he has no family or other support group who could assist him in the recovery and healing process.”

Chaney said he is not aware of any single case agreements ever being signed by either UMMC or Blue Cross, and he has not been in communication with either party about the progress of mediation since August. 

UMMC declined to comment for this story. Blue Cross did not respond to Mississippi Today’s questions by publication time.

Meredith spent the first months of summer getting his long term disability insurance in place, hoping the dispute between UMMC and Blue Cross would be resolved. After the 90-day grace period that allowed certain people to continue paying in-network rates for care at UMMC expired, he began having to pay out of pocket for his appointments with UMMC doctors. 

He asked one of his doctors if it would be safe to wait until his next appointment in three months to see if the two parties reach an agreement, and she said yes. 

“Then as that began to draw to a close, I’m not hearing anything about where this negotiation is going,” he said, referring to the mediation the two parties began in June. “I finally gave up on that.”

In July, he decided to switch insurance companies so he could keep his care at UMMC, which has a nationally recognized liver transplant program.  

The process has been a stressful one, he said, and that’s had an impact on his health. 

“My numbers are back up. When I quit work, my MELD score dropped to 10 from a 16,” said Meredith, referring to his Model for End-Stage Liver Disease score, which is used as an indicator for how urgently someone needs a liver transplant. “Now it’s like 13 or 14, so it’s creeping back up.” 

As of Sept. 1, Meredith is inured by Ambetter, which offers plans on the federal Marketplace and is accepted by UMMC. Like Frank Dungan, another former Blue Cross member and liver transplant candidate at UMMC, he is starting completely over with his deductible. 

He will have to pay $6,000 out of pocket before his insurance kicks in this year, on top of the about $450 a month he pays in premium. In January, he will have to do it again.

Following his transplant, he will also have to pay for round-the-clock in-home care for anywhere from three weeks to three months.  

As a result, he’s launched a GoFundMe to help him financially – a measure he is not comfortable having to take but feels he must. 

So far, Meredith has raised nearly $8,000 of his $50,000 goal.

“I’ve never begged for money in my life,” said Meredith, a professional geologist. “… I’m not happy about having worked all my career, paid all my taxes, paid all my insurance premiums for years and years and years, and now they all evaporate or hold their hand out.”

Editor’s note: Kate Royals, Mississippi Today’s community health editor since January 2022, worked as a writer/editor for UMMC’s Office of Communications from November 2018 through August 2020, writing press releases and features about the medical center’s schools of dentistry and nursing. A longtime journalist in major Mississippi newsrooms, Royals had served as a Mississippi Today reporter for two years before her stint at UMMC. At UMMC, Royals was in no way involved in management decisions or anything related to the medical center’s relationship or contract with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi.

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

Mississippi remains deadliest state for babies


Mississippi remains deadliest state for babies, CDC data shows

Mississippi babies are likelier to die before their first birthday than infants anywhere else in the country, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday.

The state had an infant mortality rate of 8.12 per 1,000 live births, well above the national average of 5.42 in 2020, the most recent year for which the national data is available. Louisiana, second from the bottom, saw 7.59 deaths for every 1,000 live births. 

Mississippi has had the country’s highest infant mortality rate for years. In 2019, the state topped the list with a rate of 8.71.

Black babies are twice as likely to die as their white counterparts in Mississippi. In 2020, the infant mortality rate among white infants was 5.7, to 11.8 among Back infants, according to health department figures. In 2019, 322 babies died before their first birthday in the state. Nearly 60%, or 185, were Black, though Black infants accounted for just 43% of births. 

Nationally, the leading cause of infant mortality is birth defects. But in Mississippi, premature birth and pregnancy or delivery complications as well as sudden infant syndrome (SIDS) are the leading causes. Mississippi has the country’s highest rate of premature birth, which is linked to chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes among mothers. 

The infant mortality rate is one of the many health indicators in which Mississippi “is not just 50th” but “50th by a mile,” as state health officer Dr. Daniel Edney put it during the first hearing held by the Senate Study Group on Women, Children and Families on Tuesday. 

The group, which was created by Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann after the Supreme Court overturned , heard speaker after speaker indicate that the state is not prepared for the additional high-risk pregnancies that will occur in the wake of Mississippi’s ban.

The health department estimates the state will see an additional 5,000 births every year. 

The Senate commission hearing, chaired by Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, made clear that extending postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months will be a priority for the Senate in the next session. But the legislation likely faces an uphill battle in the House, where Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, killed the measure last year, claiming it would expand Medicaid– though it would not make more people eligible for the program. 

And while experts say extending Medicaid coverage after birth would help reduce maternal mortality and improve infant health as well, it would not help ensure women are healthy when they become pregnant. The Senate commission heard data indicating that one in six women of childbearing age are uninsured, making it hard for them to get care to manage conditions like hypertension that increase the risk of poor birth outcomes. 

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

Finishing games still a work in progress for Ole Miss football

Biloxi - Local News Feed Images 012 – Jeff Haeger – 2022-09-26 22:00:32

At times, looked as dominant as any college football team playing on Saturday, but then there were other times that looked like the exact opposite.

The Rebels couldn’t be stopped in the second quarter against Tulsa in which they put up 28 unanswered points en route to a 35-14 halftime lead.

The opposition answered with 13 unanswered points of its own in the second half, but Ole Miss strong enough on defense to escape with a 35-27 triumph at home.

Head Coach Lane Kiffin that second half effort to week one against Troy in which the Rebels failed to…

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Jackson water: Thompson pushes $200M in federal funds for crisis


Report: Rep. Thompson pushes $200 million in federal funds this month for Jackson water crisis

While officials on the state and local level continue to discuss the best options for a long-term fix of Jackson’s water problems, Politico is reporting that on the federal level House Democrats may designate as much as $200 million for the beleaguered city water system.

The national publication reported that Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who represents the state’s 2nd District, which includes much of Jackson, said he is pushing for an appropriation of $200 million. The funds would be part of legislation to continue funding the federal government past Sept. 30, presumably meaning the money could be appropriated soon if agreement is reached on the bill.

The money, Politico reported, would go straight to the city and bypass the Republican leadership of the state.

Often, the Republican leaders of the state and the Democratic leaders of Jackson, the state’s capital and largest city, have been at odds on how to fix the water system that serves about 180,000 customers.

Thompson, though, also has questioned the city’s ability to develop a plan to fix the system. The system had been under a boil water notice for much of the summer, and in late August both state and federal emergency declarations were issued when many customers of the system lost pressure and the entire system was placed under a strict boil water notice.

Water pressure has been restored and the boil water notice lifted. But the cost of long-term repairs to a distribution system that is more than 100 years old could be $1 billion, some have estimated.

Both Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, and House Speaker Philip Gunn said talks are ongoing on the long-term fix.

“The long-term solution is a little more challenging,” Gunn said, to the “temporary” fix that restored water pressure and lifted the boil water notice.

Millsaps College, which often is listed as one of the top small schools in the nation, recently wrote state leaders calling for a special session of the Legislature to try to develop a long-term fix. Millsaps, the letter said, is waiting for permits to be approved to drill its own water well, but still believed a long-term fix of the city system would be in the best interest of the school and the city of Jackson.

”The issues related to the city’s water system, infrastructure and safety concerns present ongoing challenges to our ability to safely and adequately provide a world-class educational experience to the students who come to Millsaps from across the country and around the globe,” Millsaps President Robert Pearigen wrote.   “We are not alone in this, as our colleagues at Belhaven University and Jackson State University are similarly impacted.”

Pearigen added, “Our efforts to recruit students to Millsaps have always included the promotion of the city as a vibrant, exciting and engaging location, full of opportunity and promise for students during their collegiate career and after they graduate and enter the workforce. Prospective and even current students and their parents are now asking questions about the infrastructure of the city and the college’s ability to provide a safe and healthy learning environment.”

Others also have called for a special session. But Thompson said on the Mississippi Today’s “The Other Side” podcast earlier this month it might be best to wait for the regular session of the Mississippi Legislature to deal with the issue, giving time to develop more consensus on who will govern the system going forward.

Gov. Tate Reeves, who has the sole authority to call a special session, has not given any indication he plans to do so. But the governor has indicated that a long-term fix could mean the operation of the system is removed from the city of Jackson.

Some advocates have called for both state and local officials being bypassed, and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assume oversight of the system.

Whether those issues would be addressed if $200 million is set aside for the Jackson water system remains to be seen.

Providing help for the Jackson water system in the September budget bill seems to also have support of some Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation.

In early September, Hyde-Smith, who is on the Senate Appropriations Committee, wrote a letter to the Biden administration asking that it include funds for the city of Jackson.

“The same day that the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator and other White House officials traveled to Mississippi to ‘ensure’ Jackson had everything needed to restore its water quality, OMB (the Office of Management and Budget) submitted an emergency funding request addressing a host of issues deemed critical by the Biden administration.  The city of Jackson was not included,” Hyde-Smith said.  “Jackson’s water crisis is nothing short of a full-blown emergency, and it’s disappointing and concerning that the city’s water and wastewater infrastructure needs did not make it in the administration’s $47.1 billion emergency request.”

Hosemann said he recently met jointly with Thompson and Republican Rep. Michael Guest, who also represents a portion of Jackson, to discuss possible solutions.

READ MORE: Mississippi Today’s full coverage of the Jackson water crisis

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

Brian Kelly breaks down challenges Mississippi State’s air-raid offense will pose on Saturday


Coach Brian ’s first SEC game won’t come against a typical SEC opponent, at least from a schematic perspective.
Mississippi State is in the third season of the Mike Leach experiment after poaching the seasoned coach from Washington State. Leach is a disciple of Hal Mumme, the architect of the “air-raid” offense, and he’s one of only a handful of coaches to keep the concept alive in 2022.
Essentially, the air-raid is a spread offense that generally features four receivers out wide with one running back in the backfield with the quarterback in the shotgun. As the name would suggest, it’s characterized by high-volume passing.
At his press conference on Monday, Kelly broke down the challenge Leach’s offense will pose in his SEC coaching debut.
“I have such great respect for coach Leach, and obviously, it starts with the offense,” Kelly said. “It is a precision offense, it is extremely well-coached and there’s a level of, I would say, patience and persistence that you need on defense because ifBy: LSU Tigers Wire
Title: Brian Kelly breaks down challenges Mississippi State’s air-raid offense will pose on Saturday
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