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Tupelo forum explores health reform

July 12th, 2017

By Michaela Gibson Morris | Daily Journal

TUPELO – A Tuesday health reform forum aimed to shine some light on efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“There’s been a lot of confusion, a lot of talking points,” said Amanda Ptashkin of Community Catalyst, a national nonprofit organization focused on health policy and advocacy. “There’s a lot of really serious implications.”

The Jackson-based Mississippi Health Advocacy Program partnered with local organizations like Tupelo’s CATCH Kids, to host forums across Mississippi this week to have conversations about legislation, which could come up for a vote in the next few weeks. The forum drew more than 40 people to a three-hour event at the Link Centre in Tupelo on Tuesday.

The U.S. Senate is in the process of constructing the Better Care Reconciliation Act which proposes to repeal elements of the Affordable Care Act and change the way Medicaid is funding in the future. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delayed the start of the August recess to allow more time to work through the legislation.

Congressional Budget Office scoring on the different drafts of the proposed legislation estimates more than 20 million Americans could lose health care coverage, about the same number of people who have gained coverage since 2014, Ptashkin said. The different bills would reduced Medicaid funding by more than $700 billion over a decade.

An Urban Institute analysis found Mississippi could see 229,000 residents lose coverage and could lose $3.9 billion in Medicaid funding between 2019 and 2028.

“Drastic cuts in Medicaid over a decade would definitely impact Mississippi,” said Ptashkin, who advocated for revisions to the law that hold onto the gains in covering the uninsured.

The proposed changes don’t bend the curve on health care spending, they simply shift the burden of paying for it from federal tax payers to state taxpayers and to hospitals who could see their uncompensated costs increase, said Corey Wiggins, director of the Jackson-based Hope Policy Institute. The shifts in state resources could also result in higher local taxes.

If an Obamacare repeal doesn’t pass, McConnell has indicated he may look for bipartisan support to shore up insurance markets, Ptashkin said.

If it does pass, local health care institutions could face a wave of uninsured patients and loss of crucial funding. The impact on rural hospitals could be particularly devastating, which in turn would hit local economies that depend on well-paying health care jobs, Wiggins said.

“Our hospitals are already in the storm,” Wiggins said.

Local free clinics, who rely on volunteer health care providers and donations to provide millions of dollars of free care and medications, are watching and bracing to potentially see more patients.

“We need to be prepared for the changes because we’ve given a commitment to the community,” said Cindy Sparks, executive director of the Antone Tannehill Good Samaritan Free Clinic in Tupelo.

The Tupelo meeting coincided with a grassroots effort to seek out more information about how the proposed legislation would impact Mississippi. An Aug. 15 forum will bring together Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, Mississippi Hospital Association President Tim Moore, retired health care executive Gerald Wages, state Sen. Hob Bryan and governor’s office health policy advisor Bill Simpson at the Link Centre.

Ptashkin will be speaking at a public dialogue on the healthcare bill at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Lafayette County-Oxford Public Library auditorium. That event is sponsored by the Lafayette County Democrats.

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