Barbour proposes plan to help some uninsured buy coverage

Published 4:47 pm Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Gov. Haley Barbour says if he’s re-elected he wants to revive some of the policy proposals that, so far, have been blocked by the Legislature.

During an appearance Tuesday at the Ridgeland campus of Holmes Community College, the Republican also unveiled a new plan designed to cover some of the thousands of uninsured Mississippians.

He said he wants to create a health insurance exchange that would allow businesses or people who currently can’t afford coverage to band together to buy policies.

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He said the state would not subsidize the coverage but would act as a “clearinghouse” to administer the program. He estimated the state would spend about $2 million a year, and employers and workers would receive tax deductions for their own out-of-pocket expenses.

“We think, based on what some other states have done, that this will allow a lot of those 132,000 people who don’t have health insurance with an employer now to have it,” Barbour said. “I find the cost of health insurance is the biggest issue in health insurance.”

A Barbour policy adviser said the plan is based on one in Massachusetts.

Barbour faces Democrat John Arthur Eaves Jr. in the Nov. 6 general election.

Eaves, an attorney, has been traveling the state to tout his own health care proposal. His plan is based on one in Illinois. He said it’s designed to cover children who don’t have private insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid or a federally funded health plan.

Eaves said his voluntary program would cover immunizations, doctors’ visits and emergency room care. He said it would cost the state about $30 million a year and would not require a tax increase.

Barbour said Eaves’ plan is expensive and uses faulty math.

Eaves called Barbour’s health plan “laughable.”

“Barbour tried to kick 65,000 children and elderly off of Medicaid, and we have 150,000 kids without health care in this state,” Eaves said in a news release Tuesday. “My plan, KidCare, would ensure every Mississippi child has health care. It’s affordable, voluntary, and saves the state money in the long run. I’d like to welcome Barbour to the party, but he’s a few years too late.”

Among the policy ideas Barbour said he wants to revive is a proposal to screen first-graders for the reading disorder dyslexia.

A dyslexia-screening program cleared both the House and the Senate during the 2007 session, but was killed in late negotiations amid a dispute over school funding.

House members sought more money for “at risk” school districts that have disproportionately large numbers of students from poor families. Barbour and Senate leaders balked at the budget increase. In turn, House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Cecil Brown and other negotiators said they wouldn’t agree to $10 million worth of other new programs Barbour had advocated, to screen students for dyslexia and to develop a rating system for early childhood programs.

Barbour on Tuesday twice criticized Brown, a Democrat from Jackson, for blocking the dyslexia program this year. Brown is seeking a third, four-year term; he faces Republican Cory Wilson next month.

During the legislative session, Barbour said House members were playing politics by cutting the dyslexia and early childhood programs.

Brown told the House in late March: “All this stuff about how I hate kids and you hate kids and the House is playing politics is baloney. It’s just absolute baloney.”