When voters go to the poll Tuesday for the primary election, they will have a total of 11 candidates for Governor to choose from — eight Democrats and three Republicans.
With that many candidates, it’s hard for any to stand apart on an issue.
Yet, the man most likely to become our next Governor, according to polling, has done just that on the subject of health care.
Lt. Governor Tate Reeves is the only candidate in the race who has said he opposes expanding Medicaid, an option provided under the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Under that plan, the federal government subsidizes 90 percent of the cost of the expansion to provide basic health care to working Americans whose income is at or below 138 percent of the poverty rate.
If ever there were a plan that seemed perfect for a state like Mississippi, one of the poorest, most rural and least insured states in the country, this would be it.
Yet, like current two-term Governor Phil Bryant, Reeves has steadfastly refused to consider Medicaid Expansion, which he calls “Obamacare.”
Reeves won’t elaborate. He’s just against it. Seldom will you see a better example of politics over people.
This week, Gatehouse News released a report after a three-month study of how the refusal to expand Medicaid has impacted rural hospitals, a report based on data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
What it found should not be surprising, especially for those who live in rural Mississippi.
Since 2010, 106 rural hospitals in the U.S. have closed. Another 200 are on the verge of insolvency and 700 are on what the report describes as shaky ground.
Hospitals in the 14 states that have refused to expand Medicaid account for 77 of those 106 closures. Think of it this way: About three-fourth of those shuttered hospitals are in one-quarter of the states.
In fairness, not every rural hospital that has closed could have been saved by Medicaid expansion. Rural hospitals face other serious issues — population loss, the higher percentage of elderly and unisured residents and expensive modern technology that can be cost prohibitive for small hospitals with fewer patients.
But the correlation between refusal to expand Medicaid and the number of hospital closures cannot be ignored. It is not a coincidence. For many hospitals, Medicaid expansion is a lifeline, allowing them to continue to provide care for an underserved population.
According to the data, 56 percent of Mississippi’s hospitals are losing money. Four have closed. Others are in peril. That’s an alarming figure.
At the very least, this data demands that candidates take this issue seriously and share their views with voters.
If Tate Reeves is opposed to Medicaid expansion, he owes it to us to explain why and offer an alternative solution for the rural hospital crisis.
It’s the height of cynicism to simply say “no expansion” and dismiss the issue as unimportant.
We get it: People who rely on rural hospitals are generally poor, not politically connected and easily ignored.
Most of the time, a politician can forget about them. In Mississippi, they generally do just that.
But this is an election year and all those rural folks are voters.
There are some issues that people can take or leave and never be much affected by.
Access to hospital care is not among them.
It’s the kind of issue that brings voters to the polls.
If rural Mississippians are paying attention, Reeves may yet get his comeuppance.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.