All States Need Expanded Medicaid Access. Gerrymandering Prevents It.

My job at Mississippi NAACP is protecting civil rights in my state and fighting for current and future generations.

When I think about the challenges facing Mississippi, they come down to the “haves” and the “have-nots.” It’s about power — who has it, who’s working to maintain it, and who lacks it.

Two policy issues that are facing states, particularly in the South, are closing the gap in coverage for health insurance and redistricting. These issues impact people’s quality of life and undermine both physical health and the health of a strong democracy. It seems that states that refuse Medicaid expansion are more likely to draw district maps that adversely affect Black, poor, and marginalized voters.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains a provision that allows for the expansion of Medicaid eligibility. This would enable more low-income Americans to have affordable health care. Because this expansion was not required by federal law, states had the option of choosing their own course of action. Mississippi (one of the states in a group of 12Other Republican-led States) have chosen not to expand access, creating a Medicaid expansion gapMississippians lack affordable health care options, with 130,000 of them.

There is no valid reason to deny the expansion of Medicaid and closing the gap in coverage for health insurance. Many reports have highlighted the economic and health benefits of closing the gap in health insurance coverage. Analysis by The Commonwealth Fund estimatedMississippi was the first state in the country to expand Medicaid. 202,659Adults would be covered, and 110,860 more adults would not need care due to its high costs. The state would provide additional funding. 21,700 jobsThe closing of the gap in coverage for health insurance. However, political posturing has resulted in inaction by the state’s leaders.

Conversely, we know redistricting, or the drawing of state and congressional lines, is also influenced by politics — particularly by who has power and who does not. The people in power have the ability to draw new districts to serve their needs, interests, and ambitions, not the communities that elected them.

Both issues are simply about resources. Medicaid expansion will ensure that thousands of Mississippians have access health services that are life-saving. Redistricting is about determining which community resources will have the greatest impact on children and their families for many years. It’s also a way to expand the franchise of voting, while ensuring community members have a say in who represents them.

Election leaders silence the community by denying expanded health care access and drawing gerrymandered districts lines. This prevents already-marginalized people making progress.

We must look at the relationship between redistricting, and Medicaid expansion if we want to ensure that all people can prosper. The majority of Americans want Medicaid to expand. Gerrymandering, however is a way to silence the will of voters and keep Mississippians and others from having access to life-saving care. This isn’t how it should be. It isn’t how it has to be.

Advocates are fighting back. Groups are coming together from Michigan to Ohio, New York to North Carolina to file lawsuits and press their legislators to create fair maps. Voting rights advocates are challenging the new maps in many states across the country. They claim that they are racially biased and/or gerrymandering. Three other states have declined to participate in Medicaid expansion include Alabama (whose mappings are based in racial discrimination), Georgia (whose mappings also reflect racial prejudice) and North Carolina, whose maps show both racial discrimation and gerrymandering.

Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Kansas are the 12 states (including Mississippi) that have not expanded Medicaid.

Where do we go from there?

We fight back. We unite. We support our colleagues in states that have yet to redistrict.

StudiesThe Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ (CBPP), shows that there has been a reduction in the gap between uninsured and insured adults since 2014, when ACA coverage provisions went into effect. This is due in large part to Medicaid expansion. CBPP also found that people in Arkansas and Kentucky are more likely to receive basic care, such as a personal doctor or an annual check-up, than those in Texas, which has not expanded like Mississippi. This data is helpful.

The Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP has been working heavily on redistricting for several months, seeing many ups and downs as we’ve pushed for information to be shared as a series of legislative voting moments have drawn near.

The Senate and the Mississippi House are controlled by Republicans. They hold a supermajority which means that they can often pass what they want, when they want it, and how they want.

The Mississippi NAACP presented an equal representation redistricting plan, though. House Republicans approved a completely different plan, 76-42. The Republican plan creates a new district that spans over 300 miles. This makes it impossible for one leader to effectively represent it. Mississippi Today noted that “House Democrats, who oppose the plan, said it created a district too large for incumbent 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson — or anyone — to adequately represent. The proposed district would move a large portion of southwest Mississippi from the 3rd to 2nd District.”

As a Black man who grew up in Hazlehurst in Mississippi’s southwest 2nd district, I have seen firsthand what it looks like when rural areas go without. More people will be left without thanks to the legislative map.

I care about my local community. For decades, I have been driven by the desire for my community to be cared for and have someone fighting on their behalf. I will never stop caring. Mississippians, I invite you to join me. Every legislative decision, from Medicaid expansion to how districts are drawn, requires our participation. We are learning that no decision is possible in isolation.