Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

The (McComb) Enterprise-Journal. Sept. 28, 2021.

Editorial: Marijuana Bill Is An Improvement

It’s often easy to criticize the Mississippi Legislature, which like any group of elected officials is composed of people with vastly differing personalities and agendas. Sometimes this makes it seem their actual intent is to accomplish little of substance.

That is not the case, however, with the draft legislation of the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act, which at a very early glance is far more thorough and superior to the constitutional amendment that voters approved last year.

It appears that lawmakers in charge of coming up with the proposal did their homework. They surely consulted laws in other states where medical marijuana is legal, and wrote many more details and specifics into the 144-page bill that the constitutional amendment lacked.

An essential improvement is the bill’s taxation of medical marijuana. Last year’s amendment did not require a tax, which was a giant error in judgment. If Mississippi is going to wade into this pond, there is no reason to go gently when it comes to the state treasury.

The bill applies both sales taxes and excise taxes to medical marijuana, just as the state already does with other “sin products” like cigarettes and alcohol.

There was a strong incentive to get this done: Last year, something like 75% of voters supported the medical marijuana amendment — an approval rate that no one, not even lawmakers with sharp political radar systems, could have foreseen.

Evidently a supermajority of Mississippi voters have seen an ailing family member or friend suffer from an illness or harsh medical condition. They decided that something among the many medical marijuana products could alleviate their pain and should be legal.

But a few months ago, the state Supreme Court threw out the results of the marijuana referendum. The mayor of Madison filed suit and argued successfully that a flaw in the mechanism of gathering signatures for a vote, related to the number of congressional districts in the state, made the whole process invalid.

The proposed bill addresses local officials’ concerns by allowing county supervisors and municipal boards to prohibit the cultivation, processing, sale or distribution of medical marijuana products. However, the prohibition also includes a citizen-override option if enough people petition for a referendum.

The bill almost certainly has provisions that some people won’t like. It may not be perfect, but there are a lot of good things in it that will allow the state to venture into the new and unexpected field of medical commerce.

The Legislature does deserve criticism for failing to act on this issue two or three years ago. Instead, lawmakers chose to do nothing, effectively betting that voters would reject medical marijuana at the ballot box.

The lesson here is that lawmakers mistakenly gave up control of a hot-button issue. But the Supreme Court ruling gave them a second chance. They appear to have made the most of it.

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Greenwood Commonwealth. Sept. 24, 2021.

Editorial: Mississippi Has Made Its Bed

When individuals are down on their luck, those trying to help them out become frustrated when the recipients of the generosity aren’t willing to do the smallest part to improve their situation.

So goes the common response: Why help them when they aren’t willing to help themselves?

The same can be applied to Mississippi and its obstinate refusal to expand Medicaid, which would help the uninsured, help financially struggling hospitals and help this state’s economy.

If Mississippi, under its current Republican leadership, won’t help itself, why should the federal government pick up all of the slack?

That’s our reaction to a plan currently circulating in Congress to effectively have the federal government fund the entire cost of covering the 200,000 to 300,000 Mississippians who would become eligible for the government health insurance program.

Washington has already offered Mississippi several generous deals, with no success. For the first few years after Obamacare was enacted, the state would have had to pay zero of the costs of covering workers who make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid and too little to be able to afford private insurance. Mississippi said no.

When that incentive expired and the federal match fell to a still generous 90%, Mississippi was still uninterested, even as a majority of states got onboard, including several headed by Republicans. So earlier this year, as part of a coronavirus relief plan, a new carrot was added. If any of the 12 holdout states would now sign up, they would get a higher federal match on traditional Medicaid for the first two years. In Mississippi, that would mean an extra $600 million in federal outlays. Again, this state wasn’t interested.

The people who live in those other 38 states and the District of Columbia would have every good reason to tell their representatives in Congress this: “You better not vote to pick up 100% of the cost. If the leadership of Mississippi and these 11 other states cannot be reasoned with, let them suffer the consequences. Maybe the voters who elected them to office will eventually wise up and vote them out.”

There is ample reason to expand Medicaid already without any additional incentive from Washington. The federal government is only asking Mississippi to chip in 10%, and it’s going to initially give this state enough extra reimbursement to cover that 10% share for at least three years.

If that weren’t enough, studies have repeatedly shown, including one released just last week by Mississippi’s own government economists, that Medicaid expansion will pay for itself through increased economic activity, reduced levels of uncompensated care and the cost-shifting of current state health care costs onto the federal government.

In other words, Mississippi will make money on Medicaid expansion. Every contention by Gov. Tate Reeves and other expansion opponents that the state can’t afford it is a lie.

If this state is content to swallow that lie, then no one in Congress should feel obligated to send Mississippi one cent more to try to change its mind. Besides, as Sen. Hob Bryan, a Democrat who chairs the committee that deals with health care, quipped, even a 100% federal share might not be enough to convince the obstructionists.

“I imagine if there was any program like that, the governor and attorney general would sue to try to keep us from getting the money,” Bryan said.

Ridiculous but probably true.

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Tupelo Daily Journal. Sept. 22, 2021.

Editorial: Obesity is wrecking Mississippi’s health

A new national study on obesity has alarming news about Mississippi, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. We lead the nation in adult obesity and are second behind Kentucky in childhood obesity. And just like every other state, we saw our rates increase over the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic changing our eating, exercise and daily habits.

Obesity is not about someone being fat. And it’s not just a problem for those who are obese. The apathy and “they should just lose weight” mentality that seems to greet discussions of this issue illustrate the ignorance of too many people as to the causes of obesity and to the real impact obesity has on our state as a whole.

The new report — conducted by the nonpartisan public health policy advocacy group Trust for America’s Health — relays the following dour statistics about Mississippi:

— 39.7% of adults are obese (highest in nation)

— 72.8% of adults are overweight or obese (highest in nation)

— 14.6% of adults have diabetes (3rd highest in nation)

— 43.6% of adults have high blood pressure (2nd highest in nation)

— 22.3% of children ages 10-17 are obese (highest in nation)

— 23.4% of high school students are obese (highest in nation)

Study after study links obesity to poorer health outcomes in individuals and shows it is a leading cause or complicating factor of several diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. We also know that the unhealthier a population, the higher health care and insurance costs rise for everyone.

As we said, obesity doesn’t just hurt those who are inflicted, it affects everyone, which is why everyone should care.

“So how do we get people to stop eating too much?” you might ask.

Well, the first thing you should do is realize that “eating too much” is a gross oversimplification of the issue and a rather crude response to a complicated problem.

There are several factors that lead to high obesity rates. Some are cultural — like the South’s love of all things fried. Then there are the key indicators like food scarcity, poverty, health insurance coverage and access to recreational areas (i.e. sidewalks, parks, etc.). These make up what the study calls Social Determinants of Health Index. Mississippi ranks last in the overall index and at or near the bottom in each of the various sections.

TAH points out what other health advocates have said: Fighting obesity requires a systemic approach.

“A systems approach includes reducing longstanding structural and historic inequities that have been intensified by the pandemic; targeting obesity-prevention programs in communities with the highest needs; and scaling and spreading evidence-based initiatives that promote healthy behaviors and outcomes (e.g., within healthcare, transportation, and education sectors),” the report says.

Government has a key role to play with policies aimed at addressing the underlying causes of obesity, particularly at the state and federal levels. Local governments can also have a great impact, especially school boards.

But government alone is not the answer. By realizing what problems increase the risk of obesity, nonprofit groups, social organizations, community leaders, businesses and individuals can help tailor their altruistic efforts toward these issues.

As State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said about the findings of this report, “Our past does not determine our future.”

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