Miss. panel hears about uninsured working poor

February 20, 2013 10:01:25 AM



JACKSON -- Expanding Medicaid would help thousands of "working poor" Mississippi residents who don't receive health insurance coverage through their jobs, a small-town family physician told lawmakers Tuesday. 


Dr. Tim Alford of Kosciusko said this includes cashiers, clerks, nurses' assistants, poultry plant workers, truck drivers, pulpwood haulers and others. 


"They live among us," Alford said. "They are our fellow Mississippians and in so many ways, we depend on them." 


Under the federal health care overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010, states have the option of expanding Medicaid to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That's about $15,000 a year. The cutoff in Mississippi is about $5,500 a year and the state's program doesn't cover many able-bodied adults. 


Gov. Phil Bryant and other Republican leaders say Mississippi can't afford Medicaid expansion, even with the federal government paying most of the tab. 


Alford spoke to a bipartisan Senate Public Health subcommittee during the only legislative meeting this session that has focused mostly on how Medicaid expansion would affect the uninsured. He said people without coverage often go without primary care, and diseases such as diabetes escalate to dangerous levels. 


Alford told of an Attala County pulpwood hauler who suffered a herniated disk about 10 years ago and has been unable to work except for occasionally cutting firewood. Alford said he tried to get the man approved for disability payments, but a judge wouldn't agree. The man's calf has atrophied because he can't walk properly. 


"He has said, 'I'll scratch out a living somehow,' which is what he has done," Alford said. 


Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation with one of the highest percentages of uninsured residents. About 530,000 residents younger than 65 are uninsured, according to a study the Urban Institute conducted for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.