Mississippi’s health-care system has never compared very well to those in other states, and a new report indicates, perhaps to no one’s surprise, that the covid-19 pandemic provided no help in changing this trend.
The report released last week by The Commonwealth Fund used 56 measurements to rank Mississippi’s health system performance 51st among all the states plus Washington, D.C. The Mississippi Today website did a story on the report and listed multiple areas of concern, with these two the most prominent:
• Mississippi’s drug overdose deaths in 2020, the latest figures available, were up 55% from the prior year. This is the highest increase of any state. Not surprisingly, 69% of these overdose deaths involved opioids of some form, and 53% of the deaths involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
• Between February 2020 and April 2022, Mississippi had the nation’s highest rate of deaths above its expected mortality rate. The state’s number of excess deaths during this 27-month period was 596 per 100,000 people; in a population of 3 million, that translates to a total of 17,880 excess deaths.
The report says Mississippi had the highest rate of excess deaths for two reasons. One, to be expected, was the coronavirus. The other was from treatable medical issues, which presumably increased as hospitals reduced non-covid medical care during the pandemic.
Other areas of concern for Mississippi:
• The state ranked 48th in seven areas of covid-19 issues, including vaccination rates, hospitalizations, mortality and health system stresses.
• Mississippi ranked 47th for intensive-care bed use. Mississippi Today reported that between August 2020 and March 2022, there were 323 days in which at least 80 percent of ICU beds in the state were occupied.
• The state was 50th, between Kentucky and West Virginia, in deaths from preventable causes that ranged from drug overdoses to chronic medical conditions.
• Mississippi was 47th in adults without health insurance, at 17.4%.
The report has several recommendations to improve health care. Some probably are already being established, such as the creation of a long-term pandemic preparedness strategy, and getting hospitals and other health-care providers to set up a disaster response strategy — which most devised on the fly during the past two hectic years.
As far as overdoses, the common-sense recommendations are to increase access to addiction treatment and to expand the availability of overdose reversing drugs. The report doesn’t mention avoiding addictive narcotics altogether, but that would be a logical place to start.
Part of Mississippi’s performance in future years depends on covid-19. If the rates of death and serious infections that require hospitalization decline, that will help.
There’s also the problem of rising drug overdoses. The national rate in 2020 was 31% higher than the year before, but Mississippi’s was tops in the nation at 55%. This is just one marker of our state’s ongoing problem with drugs.
The report does not specifically recommend expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, but it does note that states with the largest percentage of uninsured adults are those that have chosen not to expand.
It does recommend greater investment in primary care, reducing financial barriers that prevent people from getting treatment for chronic conditions like diabetes, and improving health care for pregnant women.
At the very least, these sound like starting points for Republican leaders in the state who do not wish to expand Medicaid.
— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal