GREENWOOD, Miss. — In the poorest state in the nation, where supper is fried, bars allow smoking, chronic disease is rampant and doctors are hard to come by, Obamacare rolls into town in a lime green bus.
It took some real convincing by the Obama administration and a leap of faith by one state Republican official to get one of the nation’s largest insurance companies — Humana — to set up shop across Mississippi. Virtually no other insurer was willing to do so, discouraged by the acute health needs here and most elected officials’ outright hostility to the law.
Four months and more than 200 bus stops later, enrollment numbers here remain dismal. Only 9 percent of the state’s Obamacare-eligible population have signed up, putting it near the bottom of yet another national statistic.
Yet the Humana bus rolls, pulling into hospital parking lots and Wal-Mart shopping centers, parking at churches large and small and hitting other obvious targets to find and convince the uninsured that President Barack Obama’s signature health achievement will benefit them. Sometimes the company’s agents see dozens of people per stop. Other times, just a few individuals climb aboard.
The effort in Mississippi illustrates the obstacles the health law must overcome in many parts of the country, particularly in deeply conservative areas where antipathy toward Washington mixes with challenges of geography, education and general skepticism or ignorance of the Affordable Care Act. High rates of poverty and disease — which mark much of this state — don’t necessarily aid recruitment. Add the strident opposition of GOP leaders and enrollment gets that much tougher.
“This law’s letdown in my home state and the premium hikes on hardworking families are no different than the problems we are seeing across the country,” said Rep. Gregg Harper, whose congressional district cuts diagonally across Mississippi. “I have heard from folks I attend church with to small-business owners and everyone in between about their issues enrolling.”