JACKSON — The president of the Mississippi State Medical Association said Thursday that teaching children about exercise and proper nutrition could be a long-term way to help reverse some of the state’s terrible health trends.
Dr. James A. Rish of Tupelo was at the Capitol to release the state’s sixth annual public health report card, which shows Mississippi ranks worst in the nation for heart disease and for low-birth-weight babies. The state also has the second-highest rates of diabetes, obesity, cancer deaths and teen births.
Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation, and it has long had some of the worst health problems.
“Many Mississippians fail to engage in the lifestyle choices needed to maintain good health,” Rish said.
He said he’d like to see more Mississippians covered by health insurance, but the Mississippi State Medical Association is not taking a position on whether lawmakers should expand Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the needy.
“That’s a political decision,” Rish said.
Under the health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010, states have the option to expand Medicaid coverage to people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $26,950 for a family of three.
In Mississippi now, a family of three can earn no more than about $5,600 and qualify for Medicaid. Many low-income childless adults don’t qualify at all.
The 2010 law says the federal government would pay 100 percent of medical expenses for newly qualified Medicaid enrollees from 2014 to 2017. The federal share would be reduced to 90 percent by 2020, with each state paying the balance.
Gov. Phil Bryant and fellow Republicans who lead the state House and Senate oppose expansion, saying they don’t want to increase dependence on government programs and they don’t trust promises of federal funding. Many Democrats support expansion, saying it would support health care jobs and help people who have low-wage jobs that don’t provide private health insurance.
About 644,000 of the Mississippi’s nearly 3 million residents are already enrolled in Medicaid.