Monday, March 24, 2014

With limited providers and high rates, few Mississippi residents sign up for Obamacare

Despite living in one of the poorest and least healthy states in the nation, Mississippi residents are showing little interest in signing up for health insurance under federal health reform, Jennifer Haberkorn reports for Politico. With only two providers to choose from and relatively high premiums to pay, only 9 percent of eligible residents have signed up.

Through the end of February, 4.2 million people had signed up for health insurance under the program, reports Kasier Health News, but only 25,554 Mississippi residents, "results that were worse than in all but eight states," Haberkorn writes. (Heritage Foundation graphic: A lack of health insurance carriers in Mississippi)

"The effort in Mississippi illustrates the obstacles the health law must overcome in many parts of the country, particularly in deeply conservative areas where antipathy toward Washington mixes with challenges of geography, education and general skepticism or ignorance of the Affordable Care Act," Haberkorn writes. "High rates of poverty and disease — which mark much of this state — don’t necessarily aid recruitment. Add the strident opposition of GOP leaders and enrollment gets that much tougher."

"Despite all the political rhetoric about a government-run health program, Obamacare relies on private insurers to sell policies on the state and federal exchanges. If there’s no insurance company, then there’s really no Obamacare," Haberkorn notes. That's been a problem in Mississippi, which statistically is "one of the unhealthiest states, topping the charts in all kinds of negatives such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease — conditions that can be stabilized with treatment or kill without."

Last summer most of Mississippi only had one provider, a local company that covered a third of the state, leaving "about 36 counties with about 1 million people, many with incomes low enough to qualify for federal subsidies," with no access to coverage," Haberkorn writes. Attempts to recruit insurers didn't fare well, with Blue Cross Blue Shield and United HealthCare turning down offers before Humana Inc. agreed to expand from four to 40 counties.

That's led to a Humana bus tour, which has made more than 200 stops, but with little success. Additional attempts to get people signed up include "covering the co-pay for customers’ first doctor’s visit before June, and immediate cash savings that it hopes will get people to start a relationship with a primary-care physician," Haberkorn writes. "But Humana has every incentive to sell as many policies as possible. The math involved is simple: Insurance works when there are more people enrolled, which spreads the risk of high costs across hundreds or thousands of customers. To succeed in a state like Mississippi, it had to go all out to get customers." But with rates on average the third highest in the country, many residents appear to have decided it isn't worth it. (Read more)

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