Most Mississippians wouldn’t know the Delta Council from the Council on Aging, the Mississippi Economic Council or the Pushmataha Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
However, the organization based at Stoneville in Washington County has played a huge role in Mississippi’s economic position, that of keeping agriculture alive and well. That’s been no small task. Delta Council also has played a vital role in the industrial development of the Mississippi Delta – to the extent it could compete with agriculture.
The late B.F. Smith was Delta Council’s chief executive officer for almost 40 years and was considered “Mississippi’s sixth congressman.” This was back when the state had five elected Members of Congress – plus Smith, who spent more time lobbying Washington on behalf of agriculture and agricultural research than almost anyone else in America, earning him the “sixth” sobriquet.
In more recent times, the organization has proceeded cautiously into other issues of high importance to the region and state, including education and healthcare. In a move that might have surprised even Delta Council’s full membership, its Health and Education Committee in April passed a resolution endorsing expansion of the Medicaid program in Mississippi.
This is one of only 12 states in the nation to reject the federal government’s offer to pay most (about 90%) of the costs of expansion.
I hope Gov. Tate Reeves, who has steadfastly refused enlarging the federal-state health insurance program for poor and needy citizens, wasn’t gulping hot coffee when he heard of the Delta Council committee’s action. He could’ve suffered serious esophageal burn.
That’s because to people in Mississippi’s high places, such action by Delta Council – composed of some of the state’s most powerful and conservative leaders of agriculture and business – truly means something.
The committee’s vote followed a presentation on Medicaid expansion by state insurance commissioner Mike Chaney. Tim Moore, president of the Mississippi Hospital Association, also pushed the idea of expansion to the Delta Council panel.
“We simply wanted to take a holistic look at all the issues and see what shook out. As we continued to talk with the experts, it became clear that Medicaid expansion could have the biggest and most immediate impact on health delivery in the Mississippi Delta,” committee member Mike Litton of Greenwood was quoted in a recent edition of Delta Council E-News.
He continued: “The expansion … will allow more people to have the ability to have coverage, it will allow for healthcare providers to be in a better fiscal position and it will hopefully impact employers’ rising insurance costs across rural areas.”
Chaney, who’s in his fourth term as insurance commissioner, pointed out that the 12 expansion-recalcitrant states are already helping to pay for it in the 38 states that have accepted the plan – “but not in their own state.” He said Mississippi is leaving more than $2 billion in revenue on the table this year alone without expansion.
Increasing Medicaid provides healthcare coverage to people who meet certain household income thresholds. In Mississippi, about 220,000 more residents would join the estimated 700,000 already on the rolls, of whom almost 60% are children. Many advocates have said expansion would be the greatest single economic development move the state could make – better even than luring a large company to the state through costly tax credits.
Some former state elected officials, including ex-Democratic Govs. Ray Mabus and Ronnie Musgrove, have exhorted Medicaid expansion in recent times, as has former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., a Republican.
With Delta Council’s endorsement, new cards are suddenly in play.
Mac Gordon is a native of McComb. He is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.