Inside the Capitol Building in Washington last week, Congress made history by passing (with Democratic votes only) sweeping reform of the nation's health care system sought by presidents for 70 years. Now 34 million Americans would be extended health care insurance — thousands of them in Mississippi.
Awaiting outside as lawmakers departed was gathered a hate-breathing mob that resembled escaped inmates from the nut house. As several black Democratic Congressmen walked past, the throng (tea-partiers?) hurled racial slurs and even spat on them for voting for the bill.
Of note, their abuse was heaped upon 70-year-old Rep. John Lewis of Georgia who holds a special place in the pantheon of civil rights heroes. Among Lewis’ battle scars is a 40-day incarceration in the maximum security unit of Mississippi’s Parchman penitentiary for entering a white only bus station waiting room in 1961 when he arrived in Jackson with the first group of “freedom riders.”
The ugly scene at the Capitol after the health care bill passed was just one episode out of a series of threats (some with possible fatal consequences) aimed at Democratic lawmakers that prompted ten of them to ask for special security.
Although Republican leaders such as Rep. John Boehner of Ohio mildly condemned the tenor of the threats and sought to disassociate the GOP from them, no less than Boehner himself had declared the bill’s passage as “Armageddon” for the nation.
Mississippi’s Congressional delegation had contributed only one vote (out of six) to pass the bill, despite the state’s perennial ranking at the bottom of almost every economic and health care index and crying need for federal assistance to meet the need of its 2.8 million citizens.
Roy Mitchell, director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, calculated that the legislation would extend coverage to 359,000 Mississippian’s not now covered by health insurance.
Despite the hoopla from groups condemning enactment of the health care overhaul, Mitchell believes health care providers soon “will be standing in line with their hands out.”
Mitchell was critical of Gov. Haley Barbour's threat to join attorneys general of 14 other red states in filing a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of the new health care law.
“When he (Barbour) was running for governor, he campaigned against frivolous lawsuits in his tort reform platform.” Mitchell said, “and now he wants Atty. Gen. Jim Hood to file a frivolous lawsuit. Certainly that’s what challenging the health care bill’s constitutionality would be.”
The health care advocate charged that Mississippi’s Republican governor “is just grandstanding.” After Barbour goes out of office in 2012, Mitchell predicted that Barbour “will go back to being a lobbyist and he will have his hand out also (for health care funds).”
Mitchell added that Barbour’s contention is that increases in the state-federal Medicaid program under the new bill will require Mississippi to raise taxes in order to comply with the law. “That is just foot-dragging,” Mitchell contended. He pointed out that the federal government will pick up the tab for the first three years, and that the state’s contribution “will only be 10 percent after that.”
An important provision in the new law is elimination of the existing Medicare “donut hole” Mitchell said, adding that it will benefit 36,000 Mississippi seniors. The existing “donut hole” in Part D Medicare prescription coverage is when recipients lose their Medicare co-pay after they have purchased $2500 in prescriptions drugs, resuming only after purchases reach $6000.
One longtime Mississippi health care reform advocate, Dr. John Bower, the kidney dialysis pioneer had mixed feelings about the bill Obama was able to get through Congress. “It was OK as far as it went, but it didn’t go nearly far enough,” he said, “it's going to be a bonanza for the health care insurance companies.” Bower, 78, has been a staunch critic of heath insurance earnings and insurance companies’ executive excessive salaries.