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Mississippi’s Health Struggles: Dealing with a Troublesome Legacy

Mississippi’s Health Struggles: Dealing with a Troublesome Legacy

A Spotlight on the Health Challenges

Mississippi, affectionately known as the Magnolia State, once again finds itself grappling with substantial health hurdles, according to the annual Commonwealth Fund report. For yet another year, Mississippi’s health system performance bears the unfortunate title of being the worst in the nation.

According to the report’s recent data from 2021, Mississippi has been flagged as the state with the most significant challenges across a plethora of health indicators. Among these are reproductive and women’s health, as well as racial health equity. The health disparities in Mississippi have remained glaringly prominent over the years, consistently landing the state at the bottom of health system performance evaluations.

The Verdict from Within

State Health Officer, Dr. Daniel Edney, has been dealing with the healthcare predicaments confronting Mississippi. He holds a grim perspective, saying, “If we had 60 states, we’d be 60th in health. Someone has to be 50th, but it doesn’t have to be us.”

The categories hitting Mississippi the hardest include preterm birth rate, infant mortality rate, breast and cervical cancer deaths, and premature deaths.

COVID-19’s Unsettling Influence

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has not been kind to Mississippi either. The state’s avoidable death rate saw a rise of over 35% between 2019 and 2021. This surge, coupled with the pandemic, led to a noticeable dip in the nation’s average life expectancy, with the steepest declines among people of color.

The inaugural evaluation of state reproductive care and women’s health performance revealed troubling trends. Women across the nation, and especially in Mississippi, have faced daunting difficulties receiving sufficient health care. Regrettably, the only state recording worse outcomes was New Mexico.

The mortality rates among women of reproductive age have generally risen across all states, including Mississippi. Particularly affected are American Indian/Alaska Native and Black women. Mississippi’s maternal mortality rate stands as the highest, with 50.3 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2019 and 2021.

The Root of the Problem

Many attribute the grim death statistics to unequal access to comprehensive health care and disparities in the quality of care among different racial and ethnic groups. The growing number of “maternity care deserts” and lack of insurance coverage further exacerbate the situation.

Also, when it comes to healthcare access and affordability, Mississippi is once again found wanting, ranking at the very bottom.

Push for Improvement

Dr. Edney has consistently highlighted the state’s maternal and infant mortality rates as one of the most pressing challenges.

“It’s critically important that we… take the fact that we have the lowest life expectancy, the highest infant death rate, and one of the highest maternal death rates in the country very seriously and stop accepting it as our lot in life,” Edney stated.

The Commonwealth Fund’s experts underline the significance of postpartum care in enhancing reproductive health outcomes.

Mississippi, recognizing this, extended postpartum Medicaid coverage to one year in the most recent legislative session. Yet, it is widely accepted that more than one policy change is needed to rectify the state’s healthcare crisis.

On the Frontlines of Change

The Mississippi Division of Medicaid, in partnership with the state health department, has initiated a program that dispatches nurses to assist mothers with high-risk pregnancies. The Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program currently reaches about 700 people across the state. However, as Edney puts it, “It’s not nearly enough.”

Despite the visible need, the program has faced funding obstacles. Edney previously disclosed to Mississippi Today that the state funding fell short of hiring more nurses for the program this year.

Even with these initiatives, the report revealed that 22.4 percent of women in Mississippi did not receive prenatal care in their first trimester. An investigation by Mississippi Today found the state Division of Medicaid, the principal funder of births in the state, does not monitor when expecting mothers attend their first prenatal appointment.

Policy Resistance and Future Outlook

Mississippi is among the states with the worst health outcomes, and notably, it is also one of the states resisting Medicaid expansion. The state’s Republican leaders have firmly held their ground against this policy change.

The Magnolia State now stands on the precipice, facing compounded effects of the reversal of abortion rights, a crumbling healthcare system, and the rolling back of pandemic-era policies that extended insurance coverage. The situation, as it currently stands, is far from promising and could potentially worsen.

In light of these formidable health challenges, the time is ripe for a thorough evaluation and restructuring of Mississippi’s healthcare system to create a healthier future for all its residents.

 Source: Mississippi Today

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