Politics & Government

Worried about health care bill, one Mississippi mom will yell and yell

Nicki and Bella Nichols
Nicki and Bella Nichols

A year ago, Nicki Nichols was another average stay-at-home mom, her family reaching a degree of financial stability after struggling to pay health care costs and keep two family members with diabetes healthy.

“We finally had it figured out,” she said Friday, interrupting her Friday routine of vacuuming and riding herd on a couple of rambunctious children, one armed with a voice enhancing Batman mask.

So, she was helping a friend, a single mom, a dispatcher for a South Mississippi sheriff’s department who was going through the same thing she had gone through.

That’s when she emailed every state senator and representative to ask for guidance on how to navigate the intricacies of Medicaid and other government health care programs. And that’s when she ran into Rep. Jeffrey Guice, who suggested she pay for diabetes supplies herself.

Her social media response went viral, her phone blew up and she went into semi-hiding, even shutting off her phone at one point. She emerged a different, and more determined advocate for children with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.

So it didn’t take her long to run a kitchen table analysis of the Senate Republicans’ health care bill.

“This is horrible,” was her initial reaction Thursday. By Friday, she had found two big problems. For one, the bill would let Mississippi cut services that are covered. For Nichols, her worst nightmare would be losing prescription drug coverage.

“That means Bella’s insulin wouldn’t be covered,” she wrote. Bella is her daughter, who has Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes. “Her test strips wouldn’t be covered. I cannot even begin to imagine how we would get what wouldn’t be covered.”

Insulin alone would cost $700 a month. The retail price of all Bella’s supplies runs thousands of dollars.

The other worry is coverage. Bella is covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program. But since the family income is near the upper limits of CHIP eligibility, any cut to Medicaid is likely to push her out of that coverage. That is something the Nichols family had contemplated anyway as their fortunes improved and they believed they could afford adding Bella to her husband Nate’s plan. But if loss of coverage were coupled with a cut to prescription drug coverage, it could be a financial disaster, she said.

“It would literally be pack up and move to my mother’s in Dallas,” she said.

Embarrassed no more

Before her encounter with Guice, Nichols said she was a little embarrassed to admit her family needed government help. No more.

“I don’t want my pride to damage my child’s health,” she said. “I had to learn the dance.

“The majority of the people are just like us. There are families like this everywhere. These black single parents that some are quick to criticize are working just as hard. I don’t know a single family who sits around on their behinds drawing benefits.”

She has a simple plan to get that message out.

“I’m going to yell about it as loud as I can every day,” she said. “I’m just a mom in Rankin County doing housework in my pajamas on Friday morning. But I’ll fax and phone and call them every day.”

The “them” are Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker and Rep. Gregg Harper, none of whom have spoken to her despite months of trying.

Another generation

Herman Woessner comes from a much different generation but he is having the same problem with his representative’s and senators’ explanation. The problem with the explanation is they haven’t given an explanation.

The 75-year-old sometime consultant from Diamondhead is a member of a newly formed club of Democrats, Progressives, Independents (and he hopes one day some centrist Republicans). He has been put in charge of a committee that plans to go through the Senate bill line by line and try to ferret out exactly what the bill would do to people like him, who has a wife with a pre-existing condition and younger folks who have good jobs and insurance but still can’t afford a serious health issue.

“They have the insurance they can afford but not the insurance they need,” he said of people he met a few years back at the Stennis Space Center, home of some of the better paying jobs in the state. “Almost every week, we went to a charitable lunch for someone who had an illness that they could not afford.”

The uncertainty is maddening (he hopes rumors of a five-fold increase in medical costs for people his age are false) but what rankles him the most is the silence emanating from congressional district offices.

Who knows?

The bill was written in secret with no input from Democrats. Two Republicans senators, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, immediately said they couldn’t back it even though they were members of the working group that created it.

Wicker made brief comments about the bill on MSNBC earlier this week and that prompted a Pascagoula woman to call his office. The receptionist told her she didn’t get a chance to watch the interview because she was too busy answering the phones. Cochran’s staff told CNN he was still reviewing the bill.

Palazzo did respond to a letter from constituent Richard Kalnins of Saucier in May about the House version of the bill, saying: The AHCA provides Americans with choice, accessibility and affordability. The AHCA will dismantle the numerous taxes that were imposed through Obamacare. It will strip away the individual and employer mandates, halt Medicaid expansion, repeal the subsidy for health insurance premiums, defund Planned Parenthood and allow states the flexibility that they have wanted.

Woessner wants a deeper dive into the bill.

“I have a lot of questions,” said Woessner, who went to one of the Coast town halls that were ignored by all three. “One representative should go on the road and tell us what this thing will do.”

As of late Friday, five Republicans had said they opposed the bill, enough to require more discussions at least.

But if it passes and Nichols’ worst fears are true?

“If we fail,” she said, “we all have to step up and help each other.”

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton