By Carla Anderson
March 31, 2014
About 25,500 Mississippi residents selected a private health plan through HealthCare.gov between Oct. 1 and March 1 according to the latest enrollment report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Enrollment in the state is just 55 percent of target through five months of the initial open enrollment period.
Ninety-three percent of Louisiana residents who selected a health plan qualified for financial assistance, which is 10 points more than the national average. To date, 27 percent of Mississippi residents who selected a health plan are between the ages of 18 and 34, which is two points higher than the national rate.
Federal officials announced March 25 that anyone who has started an application on HealthCare.gov but not completed it as of March 31 can have until April 15 to finish enrolling. The extension is available in Mississippi and all other states using HealthCare.gov for enrollment. Consumers can qualify for the extension just by clicking a box on HealthCare.gov; no documentation is needed.
Individuals who remain uninsured after March may face a tax penalty. Enrollment for Medicaid or CHIP continues throughout the year.
Uninsured people in Mississippi face challenges in gaining coverage. Mississippi has some of the highest premium costs (before subsidies) on the marketplace. In all but four counties, only one insurer is participating in the marketplace. And, Mississippi is not expanding its Medicaid program. That means that some of the state’s lowest-income residents will not qualify for Medicaid or for the subsidies that are available for people whose income is 100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
State Commissioner of Insurance Mike Chaney clashed with two governors as to what form a health insurance exchange should take in Mississippi. Chaney, current Gov. Phil Bryant, and former Gov. Haley Barbour are all Republicans and on record as opposing the Affordable Care Act. However, Chaney consistently maintained that the state would be better off running its own exchange.
Chaney pushed hard for a state-run exchange. In 2011, he announced that the Mississippi Comprehensive Health Insurance Risk Pool Association would operate an exchange. The Risk Pool Association developed a plan in which the exchange would be developed in four phases, with work outsourced.
Early exchange planning was carried out by the board of directors of the Risk Pool Association and an advisory board appointed by Chaney. The Risk Pool Association, the advisory board, and the insurance department continued working throughout 2012, and in November, Chaney notified the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that Mississippi intended to implement a state-run exchange. However, Bryant told HHS in December 2012 that Chaney had overstepped his authority. In February 2013, HHS rejected Mississippi’s exchange blueprint.
Just two insurance companies — Magnolia Health Plan (owned by Centene) and Humana — are participating in the Mississippi marketplace. Magnolia is selling policies in 46 counties, and Humana is selling policies in 40 counties. Accordingly, only people living in Hinds, Madison, Rankin and DeSoto counties have a choice of two insurers.
According to a report released by HHS, the average cost for a bronze plan —the lowest-cost option — in Mississippi is $342 a month. The national average for a bronze policy is $249 a month. Chaney attributes the state’s high premiums to the lack of competition among insurers and state residents’ poor health status. Mississippi is tied for last in a national ranking of health indicators.
According to HHS, more than 510,000 Mississippi residents (20 percent of the state population) are uninsured. About 150,000 fall into the coverage gap.
State Exchange Profile: Mississippi
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation overview of Mississippi’s progress toward creating a state health insurance exchange.
Health Help Mississippi
Assists people insured by private health plans, Medicaid, or other plans in resolving problems pertaining to their health coverage; assists uninsured residents with access to care.
(877) 314-3843 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Let your Mississippi governor and legislators know how you feel about the state’s proposed health insurance exchange.Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour