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NU President and former Blueprint Mississippi Chairman, Hank Bounds, has introduced Blueprint Nebraska as a way of growing Nebraska by improving various conditions around our state. Bounds tried a similar program in his home state of Mississippi, but the results were dismal because the committees’ action plans were mostly drawn up to benefit business and industry rather than the best interests of people of that state. Last week I exposed how Blueprint Mississippi failed to improve education in that state; this week I will reveal how Blueprint Mississippi failed by aiding the healthcare industry at the expense of that state’s most pressing healthcare needs.
One of the expressly stated goals of Blueprint Mississippi was to improve the “quality of life” for the people of Mississippi, and the 2012 Blueprint Mississippi Healthcare Project Charter specifically stated that two of their primary goals were to improve “healthcare access and wellness.” So, it should be fair game for us to ask if Blueprint Mississippi improved both “healthcare access” and “wellness” throughout the state.
Did Blueprint Mississippi increase access to healthcare? President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law on March 23, 2010, the same year that Bounds launched Blueprint Mississippi. The major components of the ACA were first enacted four years later in 2014, but according to Sara Varney of Kaiser Health News, “The first year of the Affordable Care Act in Mississippi was, by almost every measure, an unmitigated disaster.” Out of nearly 300,000 people who were eligible to buy coverage in Mississippi only 61,494 did so. For many Mississippians, they either could not afford the premiums or they could not successfully navigate their way through the Obamacare marketplace. Consequently, that same year Mississippi became the only state in the union where the percentage of uninsured residents actually increased. Earlier this year U.S. News and World Report ranked Mississippi dead last among the 50 states when it comes to the quality of their healthcare system. So, Blueprint Mississippi has failed to improve both the quality of that state’s healthcare system as well as access to their healthcare system.
Did Blueprint Mississippi improve wellness? Blueprint Mississippi failed to improve the health conditions of that state just four years after it was implemented. For instance, according to CalorieLab.com in 2014 Mississippi had the highest obesity rate in the nation set at 35.5 percent of the population, and according to Gallup-Healthway’s Wellness Index Mississippi also had the lowest life expectancy rate in the nation in 2014, which had been set at 75 years. According to the CDC in 2014 Mississippi ranked first in the nation for deaths caused by heart disease, stroke, and Septicemia. The state ranked second in the nation for deaths caused by diabetes, flu/pneumonia, and kidney disease, and the state ranked third in the nation for deaths caused by cancer. According to the CDC Mississippi also ranked first in the nation for the percentage of births to unmarried mothers, preterm births, and low birthweight births. Mississippi also had an 8.1 infant mortality rate, which was the second highest rate in the nation, and according to the website for Power-to-Decide, Mississippi also had the second highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation in 2014. Just four years after its implementation, Blueprint Mississippi gave the state of Mississippi a well-being index rate of 63.7, one of the lowest in the nation, causing journalists to label it as one of the most miserable states to live in. So much for quality of life!
Blueprint Mississippi duped Mississippians into believing that their action plan would somehow improve their “quality of life”. After all, one of the projects main goals was about “educating the community” about healthcare. But, buried deep within the program itself was their secretive bait-and-switch caveat, which said: “Specific health issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and social/health issues like teen pregnancy are not the focus and were not included in the scope of this study.” By removing these metrics the Healthcare Committee had avoided its responsibility to improve public health and it tried to avert any objective criticism of its work. But how else is the public supposed to evaluate the success of a wellness program, if not by these wellness metrics? A wellness program which does not address wellness is not a wellness program. The Healthcare Committee had no intention of ever helping the State resolve its most important and pressing healthcare problems. It was all just a ruse.
What happened to the residents of Mississippi could very easily happen to us if we let down our guard. Instead of cutting taxes and putting more money into the pockets of its citizens, so they could afford to pay their healthcare premiums, Blueprint Mississippi led that state to cut state aid to schools and gave huge tax breaks and incentives to big businesses, including hospitals, healthcare clinics, and pharmaceutical companies, and the results were a failed economy, a failed education system, and a failed healthcare system for the people.
The people, not business and industry, must come first! I have already seen the polling and the research, and I have listened to you, and I know that 80 percent of Nebraskans desperately need property tax relief. In Morrill County, where I live, we saw our countywide property taxes increase more than $1 million per year from 2006-2016. These kinds of numbers are unsustainable for a county with only 5,042 residents. The last thing Morrill County needs is another tax exempt business. So, unless we demonstrate that we can learn from history, and unless we can hold Hank Bounds and the 21 member steering committee accountable for doing the will of the people, instead of implementing their own bad ideas, we will be destined to become as miserable as Mississippi.