Welcome to the state of Mississippi…(Also, known as the “Land of the mental dwarf.”) Mississippi pretty much holds the honor of being the “worst” of everything…Name it—Health care, out-of-wedlock births, education, housing, illiteracy, high school drop-outs. This state is Nirvana for the Red Necks. And there sets their newly-elected gobener (or is it goober?)…Jubilation T. Cornpone…err, Haley Barbour. Get my drift. Good ole’ Haley was Chairman of the GOP until he returned to the rectum of planet Earth. Somehow, the pieces to the puzzle seem to fit perfectly. Yup…Mississippi is surely a state you want to be “from.”
If you want to see "compassionate" conservatism in action, take a look at Mississippi, a state that is solidly in the red category (strong for Bush) and committed to its long tradition of keeping the poor and the unfortunate in as ragged and miserable a condition as possible.
How's this for compassion? Mississippi has approved the deepest cut in Medicaid eligibility for senior citizens and the disabled that has ever been approved anywhere in the U.S.
The new policy will end Medicaid eligibility for some 65,000 low-income senior citizens and people with severe disabilities — people like Traci Alsup, a 36-year-old mother of three who was left a quadriplegic after a car accident.
The cut in eligibility for seniors and the disabled was the most dramatic component of a stunning rollback of services in Mississippi's Medicaid program. The rollback was initiated by the Republican-controlled State Senate and Mississippi's new governor, Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the national Republican Party. When he signed the new law on May 26, Mr. Barbour complained about taxpayers having to "pay for free health care for people who can work and take care of themselves and just choose not to."
The governor is free to characterize the victims of the cuts as deadbeats if he wants to. Others have described them as patients suffering from diseases like cerebral palsy and Alzheimer's, and people incapacitated by diabetes or heart disease or various forms of paralysis, and individuals struggling with the agony of schizophrenia or other forms of serious mental illness.
The 65,000 seniors and disabled individuals who will lose their Medicaid eligibility have incomes so low they effectively have no money to pay for their health care. The new law coldly reduces the maximum income allowed for an individual to receive Medicaid in Mississippi from an impecunious $12,569 per year to a beggarly $6,768.
Many of the elderly recipients have Medicare coverage, but their Medicare benefits in most cases will not come close to meeting their overall requirements — which include huge prescription drug bills, doctor visits and often long-term care.
According to the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, which is coordinating an effort to somehow maintain the Medicaid coverage: "The people affected are low-income retirees now subsisting on Social Security or other pension benefits and people who have permanent disabilities that prevent them from being able to work."
Jane Powell, a 75-year-old Jackson resident who fears she will be lopped off the program, told reporters she has 10 different prescriptions for a variety of ailments, including heart disease and osteoporosis.
She worried aloud that if the law is not changed she might someday be found "dead in the street."
While Mr. Barbour insists he won't reconsider the matter, a backlash is developing against the cutbacks, which are extreme even for Mississippi.
The Democratic-controlled House opposed the cuts all along but gave in at the last minute. Democratic leaders insisted they were coerced. Technical aspects of the state's Medicaid law have to be renewed every year by the Legislature. If they are not, control of the entire Medicaid program can go to the governor. The Democrats said they were afraid that under those circumstances Mr. Barbour would have cut services even more.
At the time the bill was signed, the House speaker, Billy McCoy, called it "an absolute sin on society."
Now, with public clamor growing, the House (including most of the Republican members) is attempting to have the law reversed.
Representative Steve Holland, chairman of the House Public Health and Human Services Committee, told me this week: "My heart has been broken and crushed and stomped to pieces over this. I knew this was wrong."
He added, "This governor is my friend, but he's a Republican and his mantra is to starve this beast of big government in Mississippi."
I asked Mr. Holland if he thought Mississippi had a big government.
"Good God, no!" he said.