Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Columbus Dispatch. November 8, 2022.

Editorial: Why don’t we support an economic impact package larger than the aluminum mill?

In a hastily-called special session last week, the Mississippi Legislature overwhelmingly approved an $246 million incentive package to support a $2.5 billion aluminum mill project in Lowndes County. The incentive equals roughly 10 percent of the project size.

For the Golden Triangle, the deal was a no-brainer. The new plant will produce about 1,000 jobs at an average salary of $93,000.

Outside the area, though, the lightning speed with which Gov. Tate Reeves, who called the special session, and the legislature, which passed the measure in the span of only a few hours, raised an interesting question.

Why is it, the Greenwood Commonwealth asked in an editorial on the eve of last week’s special session, that the legislature is so quick to move on an economic development project that benefits only one area of the state while stubbornly refusing to move on another matter that has reached the point of crisis and would dwarf the impact of any private economic development project?

Put it this way: What if the Governor and legislature were given the opportunity to support a project that would bring $1 billion to the state each year, add 11,300 jobs in each of the next five years and substantially improve the healthcare system? What if that project could be had at an investment of 5 percent of the total impact — half the percentage of the aluminum mill project?

Furthermore, what if taking that action could rescue a hospital system that teeters of collapse?

Would not the legislature act with the same urgency we saw last week if given that opportunity?

To put it succinctly, why hasn’t the state followed 39 other states in expanding Medicaid to an estimated 200,000 low wage-earning Mississippians since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010?

The state’s leadership — especially Gov. Reeves and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn — has thumbed its nose at $11 billion in federal money to cover the vast majority of those costs since then, even as hospital after hospital — six in the past eight years — has closed, largely because the cost of uncompensated care (estimated at $616 million in 2019 alone) is unsustainable.

Hospitals are obligated to treat everyone who comes through their doors. When patients don’t have adequate coverage, hospitals are left holding the bag. Expanded Medicaid would provide a backstop for those hospitals and help ensure their existence.

The problem is only getting worse.

In July, Greenville-based Delta Health System closed its neonatal intensive care unit, citing $1 million in annual losses. It was the only NICU in a four-county region of the Mississippi Delta.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said last week the hospitals in both Greenville and Greenwood are in jeopardy of closing, leaving a huge region of the state without a hospital.

The Mississippi Hospital Association says five hospitals are facing imminent closure while a 2020 study by the Chartis Center for Rural Health estimates 64 percent of the state’s remaining rural hospitals are at high risk of closing.

When the nearest hospital emergency room is 100 miles away, it doesn’t matter how good your health insurance might be: The well-insured and uninsured are in the same dangerous boat.

Expanding Medicaid would benefit all Mississippians from both an economic and health perspective.

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Tupelo Daily Journal. November 5, 2022.

Editorial: Mississippi facing health care crisis

Mississippi has lost its only burn center. Most of the Delta no longer has a hospital where women can give birth. And the state’s top health official warned that there are at least six other hospitals across the state that are on the verge of bankruptcy.

To say Mississippi is facing a health care crisis doesn’t seem to adequately capture our current reality.

Several factors led us to this point, but nothing has had a larger impact than the loss of federal dollars hospitals use to offset losses from care provided to uninsured patients. That money started shrinking more than a decade ago with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. It was to be offset by expanding Medicaid coverage to the working poor.

Thirty-eight states have done just that. In every one of those states, the results have been positive: increased jobs, more revenue generated, fewer hospital closures and — most importantly — more people who can afford health care.

But in Mississippi, two key state leaders continue to oppose Medicaid expansion. Gov. Tate Reeves runs out tired talking points about Obamacare, socialized medicine and bankrupting the state. House Speaker Philip Gunn simply says he hasn’t heard anybody really asking for Medicaid expansion.

Both stances are demonstrably false.

Many of those 38 states that have expanded Medicaid are led by Republican governors and Legislatures. They did the cost-benefit analysis, and they made the wise decision.

The state’s own economists have repeatedly run the numbers, and they show clear benefits if the state expands: up to $44 million in additional revenues and approximately 11,000 new jobs over the next decade.

The Mississippi Hospital Association has been extremely vocal about the need for Medicaid expansion. In fact, they have proposed a way to pay for it through their existing members.

The expansion would be for working Mississippians who are paying taxes and giving to the system. These are people who are too poor to qualify for subsidized plans through the ACA exchange but still make too much to qualify for Medicaid. They are falling through the cracks, the very cracks that are causing our hospitals to crumble.

The state just invested nearly $250 million in a private company to create 1,000 new jobs as part of a larger $2.5 billion investment.

The state economist estimated Mississippi would need to spend between $180 million and $210 million for Medicaid expansion, which he also said would be more than covered by savings to the state and the MSHA has agreed to pay on the front end. The return would be an estimated 11,000 new jobs on top of the jobs saved at existing hospitals facing shutdown.

If the Columbus economic development project was a good deal, and we believe it probably is, then Medicaid expansion is a far greater one.

And while jobs are important, don’t forget the thousands of hard-working Mississippians who would then have access to affordable health care. They are the true concern here. Despite all the politics, let’s not lose focus on our neighbors who are hurting — in some cases dying — because our health care system is in crisis.

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Greenwood Commonwealth. November 9, 2022.

Editorial: USM Should Repay Volleyball Millions

The University of Southern Mississippi, to borrow one of the great expressions of our time, was trying to “put lipstick on a pig” with its offer to make good on the phony lease that got its volleyball arena built.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services, under different leadership than the one that had collaborated in diverting $5 million in welfare money to the volleyball project, wasn’t fooled.

Nor was Tom Duff, a wealthy USM alum and the president of the state College Board, which oversees USM.

On the same day that USM announced it was working on a plan to allow the state’s welfare agency to use space on campus to provide programming to the poor and underserved, Duff was telling Mississippi Today that USM should just repay the $5 million to the state, since it was obtained under false pretenses.

Duff’s comments were the most candid from the College Board so far about the controversy, which has tangled USM and its athletic foundation into one of the biggest spending scandals in state history. He said that when the College Board approved the lease, it wasn’t aware that it was also signing off on using the proceeds to build the volleyball facility. Duff said the matter was tucked into the consent agenda of a 2017 meeting of the College Board, that time-saving procedure some boards use to dispense quickly with what are normally routine matters.

This was hardly routine.

One defendant in the welfare scandal, Zach New, pled guilty earlier this year to facilitating the volleyball project by concocting a scheme to bypass federal regulations on how welfare block grants to the states are used. Those Temporary Assistance for Needy Families regulations are open to some interpretation, but they are clear on this point: The funding cannot be used for brick-and-mortar construction.

To try to hide the real intent, USM signed a lease with its athletic foundation, which then subleased the space for $5 million to the nonprofit New operated with his mother, Nancy New, to supposedly provided a place on USM’s campus where self-help classes and other programming could be provided to the clients the nonprofit claimed to serve. Even if that part of the bargain had been carried out at the time, which it wasn’t, it would have been a waste of the public’s money.

For USM to think it can smooth things over by trying to now fulfill the lease agreement is ludicrous. It’s also illegal, according to the state Department of Human Services.

There have been questions raised as to why the Department of Human Services has not so far demanded repayment of the $5 million. When a lawyer it had hired to pursue misspent or stolen welfare money began to scrutinize the volleyball deal, he got canned. One theory was that Gov. Tate Reeves, to whom the DHS director reports, didn’t want to rile any of his powerful Republican friends with strong USM connections, such as Duff.

Duff’s comments, though, would indicate otherwise. He said the lease was dumb and done improperly, and he suggested that USM’s efforts so far to keep from returning the money are also stupid

USM or its athletic foundation had better listen and pay the money back. If they continue to refuse, the state should sue them.

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