As with most politicians, it’s doubtful that Cindy Hyde-Smith writes the opinion columns sent out under her name.
You would hope, though, that the Republican junior senator from Mississippi reads them.
If she reviewed in advance the one distributed this past week, she should be embarrassed for its cluelessness.
The column laments the decline in rural health care, and especially the economic troubles faced by many of Mississippi’s rural hospitals. “Sadly, my state of Mississippi has more rural hospitals at risk of closing than any other state in the country,” Hyde-Smith, or her ghostwriter, says.
The column goes on to claim that the inequity in health care access is a reason that rural areas, since last fall, have become the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. “While initially COVID-19 cases were concentrated in urban areas, the virus quickly spread through rural towns and villages across the nation,” the column says. “By September 2020, COVID-19 was more prevalent in rural America than in any other type of community, with rates in the smallest towns nearly double the rates in large metro areas. This is not surprising.”
What’s not surprising is the failure of Hyde-Smith and other like-minded Republicans to recognize that they have been a major contributor to both the crisis in rural health care and the ravages of COVID-19.
Rural hospitals in Mississippi have been begging for years for this state to expand Medicaid so as to reduce the losses they are piling up from carrying such a heavy burden in uncompensated care.
The Republicans have stubbornly refused to consider the expansion, which would provide health insurance to an estimated 200,000 and 300,000 of Mississippi’s working poor. Although expansion is a state-level decision, Hyde-Smith has all but endorsed the resistance in Jackson, joining in unsuccessful attempts in Congress to repeal the legislation that provided for the Medicaid expansion more than a decade ago.
Every argument the Republicans have made for not expanding Medicaid in Mississippi has been shot down.
First, they said this state, the unhealthiest in the nation, couldn’t afford the expansion, even though the federal government would pick up at least 90% of the cost. Then studies surfaced from expansion states showing that the economic activity generated by the huge infusion of federal cash produced enough new tax revenue to cover their share of the cost. And if that wasn’t proof enough that the math would work, the Mississippi Hospital Association offered a plan to allow the state to push off its 10% on the hospitals and the individual beneficiaries. The Legislature hardly considered it.
The Republicans also claimed it would be dicey to expand Medicaid since lawsuits designed to overturn the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, might be successful, leaving the state in a pickle to either assume the entire cost of the expansion or to cut off those who had been added. Every lawsuit, however, challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare has lost, including a U.S. Supreme Court decision just last month that solidly rejected a Texas lawsuit, joined by Mississippi and 16 other Republican-led states.
Besides the problems with health care access, the reason COVID-19 has hit rural areas so badly is because these same parts of the country have swallowed the conservative propaganda that resisted vaccines and other preventative measures, such as masks and social distancing. Former President Trump and all of his sycophants, including Hyde-Smith, fed the notion that the battle against COVID-19 was an attack on personal freedoms. They politicized the pandemic and, in the process, contributed to the death toll.
Hyde-Smith’s answer to the plight of rural hospitals and the communities they serve is to add a division within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and charge it with ensuring that rural America is not overlooked.
Mississippi’s health care system doesn’t need another layer of federal bureaucracy. What it needs is for Republicans to accept the remedy that’s just been languishing on the table.
A billion dollars a year has been waiting for Mississippi and its financially strapped hospitals. It is idiotic to not take it.
- Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.