Thursday, August 15, 2013

Phil Bryant Hosts Health Care Economic Development Summit

Today, Governor Bryant and the Mississippi Economic Council hosted a summit to update stakeholders on the governor's Blueprint Mississippi plan to invigorate economic development through health care.

Guests in attendance ranged from Congressman Gregg Harper, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, mayors, lobbyists, hospital administrators, a few more lobbyists, legislators, business leaders, another lobbyist, and a couple of monitors from the tea party. There is no need for concern; the governor did not come out in support of Obamacare.

One of the themes of the event was to put Mississippi on par with Texas when it comes to economic development. The term used was a "Texas-style attitude." Yes, Rick Perry's Texas. It could be said that Rick Perry can create a job faster than he can say "oops." This is the same Texas that has seen so much rapid growth in recent years, that it is now in serious danger of running out of water for its economic development, food supply, and its citizens.

Bryant noted that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has put Mississippi on its Top 10 states in which to do business. ALEC, it should be noted, is a tea party creation of the billionaire Koch Brothers. If you believe ALEC has the well-being of Mississippians in mind, think again.

The governor also pointed out that for every doctor that begins his or her practice, economic development will occur. Does that sound familiar? It should. Legislative Democrats made this same argument countless times over how expanding Medicaid would spur job creation in places that badly need an economic kick start.

There is no doubt that public- and private-sector investments in health care are taking place all across the state. Businesses are doing more to incentivize their employees to diet and exercise and hospitals are diversifying their operations to attract new patients. Look no further than the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Baptist Hospital in Jackson, and Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford to see that there are some positive steps being taken to build more capacity. It underscores the point that investment, whether it being in research and development, in a company's employees, or capital, leads to growth.

One key issue that Bryant and other presenters did not discuss is access to all these wonderful services being offered within the developing health care zones across the state. Sure, pharmaceutical manufacturers are being built, hospitals are expanding, and life-saving HIV drugs are being developed right here in Mississippi. Yet, not one person I heard mentioned how those with or without health insurance can afford these services. It's one thing to have services; it's an entirely different thing to have individuals access and afford those services.

We still have over 500,000 Mississippians without health insurance coverage. Bryant is allowing the federal government to run our health insurance exchange, while he and the tea party-controlled legislature are not expanding Medicaid services. We all know that health care, in terms of its share of our economy, is growing, especially with the baby boomer generation retiring in larger numbers.

Mississippians still need to hear from this administration how it plans to encourage young people to get into the health care field, how these young people can afford to increase their skills, how patients can afford health insurance coverage, and how barriers to access can be removed. Much work still remains to be done.

On an unrelated note, I met a Republican during the event who encouraged me to switch parties. Clearly, this person did not get the memo. All I could do was laugh while another Republican chuckled and said "it's a lost cause." I applaud the effort, though.

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