The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

New Orleans Times Picayune Article on Delta Grassroots Caucus

Posted on October 07, 2009 at 04:20 PM

We would like to forward this article published in the New Orleans Times Picayune about the Delta Grassroots Caucus conference. The article quotes Sen. Mary Landrieu, Rep. Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas, Lee Powell of the Delta Grassroots Caucus, Mayor Brad Cole of Carbondale, Illinois and others. It focuses on the health care debate.

New Orleans is always important and we would like to give a special thanks to Rev. Dwight Webster, pastor of Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans, who is a Hurricane Katrina survivor and has many parishioners from the Ninth Ward and Gentilly who were victims of Katrina. He gave a moving and eloquent presentation about health care in the great city of New Orleans, and of their trials in rebuilding after Katrina. His son Amir Webster also spoke eloquently about the younger generation’s valiant efforts to surpass the challenges of surviving and rebuilding after the disaster.

Rev. Webster helped us in getting this important media coverage and spoke with the New Orleans reporter at the conference. Media coverage not only helps inform the general public but also influences the powers that be to act in doing more to deal with the economic, health care and other issues of the vast region from southern Illinois to New Orleans. Thanks–MDGC

Mississippi Delta leaders discuss health care issues with lawmakers

By Cathy Hughes September 16, 2009, 8:31PM Ted Jackson/ The Times-Picayune archive

Rep. Charlie Melancon voted against the health care measure in committee, but says he remains committed to enacting a health insurance overhaul this year.

The Obama administration released new state-by-state numbers Wednesday suggesting that a rising tide of uninsured Americans threatens to swamp the nation’s health-care system, even as a delegation of Mississippi Delta community leaders was assured by leading Southern Blue Dog Democrats in the House and their counterparts in the Senate that a reform bill can and must pass.

“We’re spending twice as much per capita on health care than other developed nations of comparable economic strength; we cannot continue to shell out twice as much on health care and think we can compete, ” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., told the annual Washington, D.C., gathering of the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus, a nonprofit civic group with representation from counties in eight states extending from southern Illinois to New Orleans, and including nearly every parish in Louisiana.

For those who ask what the rush is, Landrieu said as a nation, “we’ve been working on this for 75 years.”

Caucus, lawmakers meet

For two days, the caucus heard from 11 senators and members of Congress representing Mississippi Delta counties. The lineup included mostly fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House and their like-minded colleagues in the Senate, who at various times have been portrayed as obstacles to reform but now find themselves decisive players in crafting a package that can pass both houses.

“We need to pass health-care reform, ” said Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., who was the Blue Dog point man on health care on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “I’m very optimistic that, at the end of the day, we’re going to find some common ground on health-care reform. It’s not going to be easy. If it were, Teddy Roosevelt would have gotten it done or Harry Truman.”

But, Ross said, “it’s key to our economic future, and I’m up here fighting to make sure the final product reflects our values in the Delta.”

By and large, the lawmakers oppose a public health insurance option and want to be sure that reform is deficit-neutral, a goal that last week won a rhetorically ironclad commitment from President Barack Obama.

While the Blue Dogs exacted some concessions in the House Energy and Commerce bill – including delaying action until fall – it was not enough for some Blue Dogs, including Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, who voted against the measure in committee.

But Melancon told the Delta caucus on Tuesday that he remains committed to enacting a health insurance overhaul this year.

“We have to do something; we have to do something that works, ” he said.

More people uninsured

The Census Bureau last week released new numbers indicating that, nationally, the number of uninsured has increased from 39.8 million in 2001 to 46.3 million in 2008.

On Wednesday, the White House released a state-by-state breakdown of those numbers, showing that the number of uninsured in Louisiana had risen from 792,000 in 2001 to 869,000 in 2008. Put another way, 27.4 percent – an increase from 24.6 percent – of all nonelderly adults in the state were uninsured for at least a year.

The White House also reported that an increasing number of workers no longer get coverage at work, with the proportion of workers from Louisiana without insurance jumping from 21.9 percent in 2001 to 26.1 percent in 2008.

“These numbers only serve to further confirm a reality that far too many American families live with every day, ” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said. “Our health care system has reached a breaking point. The status quo is unsustainable, and continuing to delay reform is not an option.”

Rural areas suffering

The situation is especially profound in the Mississippi Delta. In small towns and rural areas, which make up most of the Delta, doctors are few and far between, the population is disproportionately older and poorer and federal formulas for Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement pay doctors and hospitals less.

“I live in Napoleonville, La., ” Melancon said. “I’ve got one family practitioner, and I’ve got one hospital that can’t take care of anything but stabilizing you and getting you to the specialist.”

In his parish of 25,000, there are only two other doctors, Melancon said, and “they live there because they love to live there, not because the (Medicare and Medicaid) reimbursements are so great.” He said the reimbursements in rural areas are 25 percent to 30 percent less than in urban areas.

“The projected shortfall in the next 15 years is 125,000 docs, and if that doesn’t scare you in rural areas nothing will, ” said Melancon, who added health reform should include provisions to forgive student loans for medical students who commit to practice in rural areas.

“Once we get them to the country where they can fish and hunt … it will be hard to pull them out of there.”

Lee Powell, executive director and president of the caucus, said he was pleased and encouraged by what his group heard from members of Congress and proud that “we’ve had two days of meetings on health care, and no one called anyone a liar or a Communist.”

And the only mention of a “death panel” came when Mayor Brad Cole, of Carbondale, Ill., a Republican who backed Obama for president, said medical care is so scarce along the Mississippi that “we would actually welcome a death panel in the Delta, because we would actually have a health professional there to talk with us.”

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Jonathan Tilove