October 27, 2012 11:58:00 PM
JACKSON -- Mississippi needs to produce more physicians and provide incentives for them to work in rural areas, says a new report that focuses on expanding the business of health care in one of the poorest, sickest states in the nation.
The report, issued Friday, says Mississippi has trouble competing for biotech research and development jobs because too few residents are highly skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
However, it says the state can compete for back-office jobs that support the health care industry, such as data entry and claims processing. It also says Mississippi can attract low-cost jobs in pharmaceutical manufacturing.
Gov. Phil Bryant traveled to Gulfport, Tupelo and Jackson on Friday to discuss the report issued by Blueprint Mississippi, a business group affiliated with the state's chamber of commerce, the Mississippi Economic Council.
"A successful health care industry in Mississippi will create jobs and build economic stability," Bryant said in news release.
He said the state is giving a $10 million grant to the University of Mississippi Medical Center to help it expand so it can produce more physicians. UMMC leaders say a new medical school building would cost $62.6 million.
"I believe the Legislature's going to join us next year and help us with a bond bill to finish that off," Bryant told more than 200 people at a presentation about the report in Jackson.
Bryant, a Republican, became governor in January. He spoke often during the 2011 campaign about wanting to expand health care in Mississippi, which has some of the worst rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other expensive health problems.
"A healthy population is necessary for an effective workforce, which is necessary for effective economic development," the report says.
The report offers these suggestions for improving health care: "Mississippi needs more and better paying jobs that provide insurance coverage. The population needs to be educated on lifestyle changes to improve health. Better incentives are needed to get physicians to work in rural areas."
UMMC already has a program to forgive student loans for physicians who agree to work in rural areas, but the report says "eligible areas are defined broadly, meaning truly 'rural' areas do not see the benefit."
Haley Fisackerly, president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi, urged business people, hospital administrators, government officials and others to work together to improve the delivery of health care.
"The only way we're going to get through this is with a public-private partnership," Fisackerly said during the presentation in Jackson.
Bryant and Republican legislative leaders have said they oppose expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010.
The law, called the Affordable Care Act, would require most Americans to buy insurance and could expand the number of people on Medicaid by raising the income ceiling for eligibility. A divided U.S. Supreme Court this year upheld the law but said Medicaid expansion would be optional, not mandatory.
The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation has projected that between 2014 and 2019, Mississippi would receive nearly $9.9 billion in federal money for Medicaid expansion, while the state would pay $429 million. That's $1 from the state for every $23 from Uncle Sam.
By some estimates, the expansion would add 400,000 people to Mississippi's Medicaid rolls, increasing enrollment from the current 1 in 5 residents to about 1 in 3. Mississippi is spending nearly $822 million of its own money on Medicaid in the current fiscal year, or almost 15 percent of the state-funded portion of the overall state budget.
Ed Sivak, director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, said Friday that expanding Medicaid would help lower-income people improve their health by giving them regular access to doctors' offices and other services. He also said Medicaid expansion could support thousands of health care jobs.
"We think there's no quicker way to realize the goals of that report than expanding Medicaid," said Sivak, whose group advocates policies to help people with low or moderate incomes.