Mississippi Black Women Roundtable: Project to Highlight Health Care Barriers

The Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable seeks to elevate the experiences of Black women and girls who face barriers to accessing health care through its Mississippi Voices project.

The group is offering Mississippi women $200 to share their health care stories with them as part of the ongoing project.

Cassandra Welchlin, executive director of the Roundtable, said centering the lived experiences of women in Mississippi is essential to effectively advocating for health care policy changes, primarily Medicaid expansion. Mississippi is one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. If state leaders were to expand Medicaid, at least 225,000 Mississippians would qualify for health care coverage. Many of those who would qualify are currently in the “health care coverage gap,” where they can’t afford private insurance but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

The project is a partnership with the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program and is funded by Community Catalyst, a national nonprofit health advocacy organization.

Welchlin said her organization is primarily focused on the economic security of women in the state and that health care advocacy is inseparable from that mission.

“We know that (access to quality health care) serves as an equalizing force, particularly in communities of color… Health care can make or break you,” Welchlin said.

The project began in 2020 with eight focus groups held across the state where women from all generational and economic lines shared their experiences about the state’s health care system. They heard horror stories of women who put off necessary tests and surgeries because they couldn’t pay their insurer’s copay. Some women did not take the necessary medications every day to make their supplies last longer.

Welchlin said one of the goals of the project is to equip women with the knowledge and communication skills they need to organize in their own communities and hold their elected officials accountable.

“It’s important that they can control that narrative, because they know what they’ve been through and what they need,” Welchlin said.

Welchlin said a common thread that emerged throughout the project is that there is difficulty accessing health care for women in all settings, regardless of their level of education and employment.

Regina Lewis is a 45-year-old Jackson native who, despite having a master’s degree, struggles to pay her medical bills.

Lewis works for a small nonprofit organization that doesn’t provide health insurance. This forced her to get insurance through Mississippi’s Affordable Care Act marketplace, which has only a handful of providers.

Lewis says her insurance plan is mediocre and doesn’t include many in-network providers in her area. She has been seeing the same OB/GYN for 15 years, but she has to pay out of pocket to see him because she is not in her provider network. That kind of doctor-patient relationship was too valuable for her to abandon.

“It shouldn’t have to be like this,” Lewis said. “We should have the option to receive quality care where we feel comfortable.”

Lewis also suffers from high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and gastroparesis. Some of his medications don’t have generic equivalents, the only types of medications his insurance covers, so he has to pay $250 each month to manage these chronic conditions.

Welchlin said another major problem is that women are not believed when they tell health care providers what their needs are and that they are not invited into the decision-making process with their doctors.

Lewis experienced this when he was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a condition that partially paralyzes the stomach and prevents the organ from emptying normally.

Lewis was only presented with two treatment options, he said. One was a drug that had serious side effects, and the other was to have a gastric pacemaker installed that would stimulate the muscles in his stomach with electricity, but that carried a high risk of repeated infections.

Lewis rejected both options. For her, the additional risks outweigh the benefits. Those were the only treatment options presented to her, so she manages the condition herself by severely limiting her diet. She feels that if she were not a black woman or had better insurance, she would have received better and more compassionate care.

“It’s like some doctors and people look down on you because you have this kind of health insurance instead of real commercial insurance,” Lewis said.

To share your health care story for Mississippi Voices, text “MSVOICES” to (833) 621-1953.

Editor’s note: Black Women’s Roundtable has placed paid advertisements on the Mississippi Today website. Mississippi Today maintains a clear separation between news and advertising content. As such, advertisers they have no influence or control on the editorial decisions of Mississippi Today.

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