Mississippi Medicaid in the spotlight once again

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - On July 1, the state's $800 million a year Medicaid program will end unless the legislature re-authorizes it. On Wednesday the governor has called legislators into a special session to address the issue. Six hundred thousand low income Mississippians are in the state's program.

At Coastal Family Health Center, more than 80 percent of patients are on Medicaid or have no insurance. The director of the center, Angel Greer, is very concerned.

"If Medicaid is not expanded or not funded we're looking at great impacts on hospital services and a great impact on in community health centers and other health care providers for just primary access. Something has to be done," Greer said.

If Medicaid is not renewed or expanded, the poor will still receive care though. Dr. Steve Demetropoulos is the Singing River Health System emergency department director.

"They're being treated in the emergency departments across our state. And that's where they're receiving both their emergency and non-emergency treatment," Demetropoulos said.  "It is a cost and we all absorb it."

The cost of that care at Singing River Health System is $50 million a year.

While most medical professionals in Mississippi favor an expansion of the state's Medicaid program, for those who have no health insurance or little health insurance at all, an expansion could mean the difference between financial solvency and being in debt for the rest of their lives.

One of those people is Ashley Thames.

"Well I racked up thousands of dollars worth of health bills and I was getting constantly harassed with phone calls and letters in the mail about money owed and I couldn't afford to pay it. Could barely afford to pay for just living expenses," Thames recalled.

The CEO of Singing River Health System, Chris Anderson, said any expansion would certainly help the working poor.

"They're out there trying to take care of their families. If you think about it, that if you make $10 an hour, a good wage, that's $20,000 a year. But a health policy for a family of four costs somewhere, $12,000 to $14,000 a year so that person really doesn't have a choice," Anderson explained.

That's a choice many hope to have in the future.  The special session begins Thursday morning at ten in the state capital in Jackson.

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