Bryant’s hospital statement is a bit of irony

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, November 2, 2013

There was a bit of irony when Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant stated, “I cannot sit back and allow Mississippians’ access to (health) care be threatened in violation of state law.”

Bryant was referring to the recent dispute between Mississippi Blue Cross and Health Management Associates (HMA), which owns 10 Mississippi hospitals.

The irony is that Bryant is ignoring federal law (Obamacare) and in so doing threatening access to health care for 300,000 or so lower income Mississippians.

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If Bryant doesn’t want government involved in health care, why is he issuing executives orders and intervening in a contractual dispute between two private companies?

It’s politics. One of the 10 hospitals is River Oaks in Rankin County — the electorial base of the state Republican Party. It’s the same reason Bryant supported a $24 million subsidy for the outlet mall in Pearl. No Republican can win without the solid support of Rankin County.

I’m not trying to defend Obamacare, which increases government intrusion in the medical marketplace. But it’s pretty amazing to see Mississippi leave a billion dollars in free federal money on the table by refusing to expand Medicaid.

The feds have promised to pay 100 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion for three years and then 90 percent after that. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Mississippi could use a billion-dollar infusion. Our state economy is shaky.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mississippiworkforce peaked in August 2011 at 1,340,777. Two years later, that number has dropped to 1,291,221. That’s a drop of 49,556 workers, 3.65 percent, in two years. Not good at all.

I find it also ironic that Bryant will bend over backward to give subsidies to private companies in the name of economic stimulation, while turning his nose up at a billion dollars in federal money — money that will go to hospitals and doctors in every county in Mississippi. It is a testament to the emotional politics surrounding Obamacare.

A big part of the problem is the way Obamacare was passed. It slid through the U.S. Senate using questionable procedures and lacking a single Republican backer. Historically, legislation of this magnitude was required to obtain bipartisan support.

Voters soon forget. Two years later, Obamacare was a distant memory. President Obama shrewdly delayed implementation until after his re-election. Mitt Romney vowed to repeal Obamacare, but he lost.

So here we are with a Republican House elected to repeal Obamacare and a president who counts it as his greatest achievement.

Remember congressional earmarks? These were special sweetheart appropriations tacked on to bills. Public disgust banned them. But earmarks had a beneficial side effect. It gave politicians an excuse to vote for legislation that wasn’t popular with their base. Mississippians would excuse some votes if it brought home the bacon to their communities.

Earmarks were the grease on which controversial legislation slid. When we banned earmarks, we suffered an unintended consequence of wiping out a key tool for compromise. Thus the shutdown.

I am spitting into the wind. Much of the public doesn’t understand the free market and in our new Nanny State, we look to the government to protect us, especially when we are ill. Our country has changed.

The doctors detest Obamacare because they have to deal with the feds day in and day out. They hate it. The feds heap regulations on them, threaten to throw them in jail if they screw up and constantly underpay them.

The hospitals like Obamacare because they won’t have to collect from low income emergency room patients who have no insurance. Instead, they will just bill the government.

Medicaid (bottom third of earners) and Medicare (the elderly) will still get the same free medical care.

Those too rich for Medicaid and too poor to afford insurance have a two-edged sword. If they get really sick, they can always sign up at the last minute and still be covered. However, they will now have to pay an annual fine. The fine was a bait and switch. It starts out very low but in a few years will be over a thousand dollars. Also, these lower income uninsureds will now have subsidized rates on a sliding income scale.

People with existing company insurance will probably see little change. Your employer is now limited on how much he can force employees to pay for a company health plan. The feds now have control over the coverage of company plans, so look for better coverage.

Businesses under 50 employees won’t be affected much. They are exempt from fines. Businesses with over 50 employees that do not provide insurance get the biggest blow. They will pay an annual fine per employee. Enforcement of this provision was waived (illegally) because it was too dramatic.

Businesses with over 50 employees that offer health care may see rates go up dramatically. For my company, this hasn’t happened yet, although I live in constant fear. Conceivably, I could cancel the health plan, but the fine plus the discontent of my employees makes this option highly unlikely. My sense is that the feds are working with the insurance companies to minimize dramatic changes that would be destabilizing.

Obamacare is one more step toward complete governmental control of health care. The price tag will be significant at a time when the nation is already out of money. The majority of voters like their free bubble up and rainbow stew.