By Ellen Nason
Mississippi gets a failing grade on its overall health, according to a recent report card issued by the Mississippi State Medical Association and the state’s Department of Health.
The Magnolia State remains lodged near the bottom nationally in several health categories. The statistics show that the issues begin at birth and continue into adulthood: most very low birth weight babies, 2nd most teen births, worst in heart disease, 2nd worst in diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer deaths.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the state of health in Mississippi, by and large, is poor and in need of improvement,” said Dr. Randy Easterling during a recent interview at the Mississippi State Medical Association offices in Jackson. (Watch video below.)
Easterling said a key to making progress is encouraging people to get routine health care and help with chronic issues, which they cannot do without broadening access to affordable health care.
Even though the opening last year of the Health Insurance Marketplace brought new options to many of the uninsured across the nation, Mississippi, one of the states in greatest need, faced a potential crisis when it appeared no health plans would be offered in 36 of its counties, which include many high-poverty areas. That’s when Humana agreed to provide coverage to those 36 counties in addition to the four counties in which it already had a market presence.
Humana, one of the founding supporters and sponsors of the public/private coalition Cover Mississippi, didn’t simply sit back and wait for Mississippians to find the help they needed. In November 2013, it launched the Covering Mississippi Tour, a mobile exchange education and outreach campaign that uses two specially designed trucks to travel around the state, meeting people where they live and work and making it as easy as possible to get information about their health plan options under the Affordable Care Act. The trucks have traveled to churches, schools, retail outlets and community centers in more than 100 towns and cities to ensure that as many people as possible get the information and individual assistance they need.
Stacey Carter, Humana-Mississippi Market Leader, said Humana will work with local health-care leaders to address the challenges facing Mississippi.
“We can help change culture and that’s an amazing thing. We can help people live healthier lives,” she said. “It’s very emotional because many people have never been able to have health insurance before and now, they’re able to protect their children and their spouse and so, it gives people a sense of security that they may have never had before now.”
Kim Evans, who operates an airport taxi service in Jackson, knows what it is like to lose that sense of security. She had been without insurance for a year and could not find a health plan she could afford until she checked into Humana’s options.
“Everybody needs it (insurance coverage) so much,” said Evans. “I couldn’t believe it when I learned my premium would be 46 cents a month. It means everything to me.”
Evans said another great thing about her new plan is that she can go back to the same doctor she had been seeing for years – a doctor who knows her, her medical history and is someone she trusts.
“I have an appointment tomorrow with my doctor,” she said. “It’s wonderful!”
Another Jackson resident, DeAngelo Brown, 22, said he had not had health insurance since he entered college, which caused anxiety because he was well aware of how important affordable care is for everyone, young and old. He had spent a lot of time looking for an affordable plan and had participated in discussions about health plans and health costs in his classes at Jackson (Mississippi) State, where he is a health-care administration major. He had seen a Humana information booth at the Jackson Medical Mall and decided to check into his options. He’s glad he did.
“A lot of young people don’t go to the doctor and don’t understand the value of it,” said Brown. “But the cost of health care is steadily rising, and you need regular routine care to prevent big problems in the future. It was stressful knowing I couldn’t afford a doctor or dentist.”
“It was great and exciting news today,” said Brown, as he signed up for a medical plan that will cost him 22 cents a month and a dental plan that will cost $18 per month. “I’m going to encourage everyone I know to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Watch the video below to learn more about the Covering Mississippi Tour:
The health exchange open enrollment period ends March 31. If you have not yet enrolled or have questions, go to humanahelps.com or healthcare.gov.