Politics & Income, Not Technology, Could Impede Mississippi's ACA Outreach

Khalil Abdullah, Special to The Informer from New America Media | 11/20/2013, 3 p.m.
While much of the scrutiny of the Affordable Care Act has been focused on the technical glitches of the October ...
Representatives from Humana and Magnolia health insurance discuss the challenges of ACA registrations in Mississippi during a health care panel sponsored by New America Media. (Courtesy photo)

While much of the scrutiny of the Affordable Care Act has been focused on the technical glitches of the October launch of the healthcare.gov website, Cover Mississippi, an amalgam of non-profit and private interests, has been working to reach state residents, including those for whom Internet access is uncommon, impractical, or too expensive.

“Never in my 10 years of working on behalf of children and child advocacy have I seen such a unique coalition be put together,” said Kim Robinson, Program Manager of the Jackson-based Southern Regional Office, Children’s Defense Fund. “It’s a statewide campaign that is needed for education and outreach to the most vulnerable citizens.”

Robinson, speaking as a panelist to a forum for media convened by New America Media to assess the challenges of disseminating information about the ACA to Mississippians, was joined by representatives from Humana and Magnolia, the two private insurers that have signed on to be providers for the Mississippi’s Health Insurance Exchange; Tinneciaa Harris, Project Administrator, University of Mississippi Medical Center, one of the two recipients of the state’s navigator grants; and Linda Dixon Rigsby, Health Law Director, Mississippi Center for Justice.

Though Mississippi declined to build its own exchange, leaving that task to the federal government, it nevertheless has forged ahead with Cover Mississippi as a strategic plan that includes each of the panelists’ organizations in addition to Oak Hill Missionary Baptist Church Ministries, Inc., the other navigator grant recipient; as well as consumer assistance programs and federally qualified health centers which often service low income, uninsured, and immigrant populations.

One objective of the coalition is to drive Internet traffic to the exchange website where Mississippians can compare policies and then purchase insurance. Often referred to as the individual mandate, the requirement for most individuals to have health care insurance – or to be fined a fee or percentage of their income—was an aspect of the ACA upheld by the Supreme Court. The ACA does not require that an insurance policy be purchased on the exchange, but as other panelists and Stacey Carter, Humana Market Director, Mississippi, stressed, “in order to get a subsidy, you have to go through the exchange.”

The size of the subsidy, for those eligible, varies depending on a number of factors, but the Mississippi Health Exchange estimates that over half a million of the state’s uninsured are subsidy-eligible, with over 67 percent having a full-time worker in the family. The numerical break down also projects that the uninsured subsidy-eligible population is almost evenly divided between European and African American residents, at 48 and 47 percent respectively, while three percent are Latinos and one percent are Asian or Pacific Islanders.

Collectively, the panelists described ambitious plans to cast a wide net in efforts to reach the public and potential allies who can help disseminate accurate information. Carter spoke about Humana’s presence at the state fair and at the recent Mississippi Nurses Association Convention in Biloxi on the Gulf Coast. She said the November rollout of two mobile units will help Humana cover “every mile of the 40 counties” in which they ‘re doing business, including outreach to churches on Sunday after service, shopping malls, Wal-Marts, CVS stores, YMCAs, and even “local gas stations where people stop by. We have a lot of boots on the ground,” she said.