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Expanded health coverage debated in race for insurance post

November 2, 2019 GMT
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Republican Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney discusses his agency's progress at the Mississippi Economic Council's annual "Hobnob Mississippi," in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. Chaney is seeking reelection to his office. The social event is hosted by the state chamber of commerce and is one of the last big gatherings before the Nov. 5 elections. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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Republican Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney discusses his agency's progress at the Mississippi Economic Council's annual "Hobnob Mississippi," in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. Chaney is seeking reelection to his office. The social event is hosted by the state chamber of commerce and is one of the last big gatherings before the Nov. 5 elections. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Republican Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney says he’s got more work to do as he seeks a fourth term, but Democratic challenger Robert Amos says Chaney is ignoring the most important work he should be doing — advocating for more health insurance for lower-income Mississippians.

The state’s chief insurance regulator wouldn’t have the power to expand coverage without support from the Legislature and the governor. But the issue remains part of the race. Amos said he supports a plan proposed by state hospitals to have hospitals and consumers pay the matching amount required by the federal government. Chaney, though, said the plan is flawed and wouldn’t work.

“Expanding Medicaid is the way to go,” Amos said of the state-federal health insurance program. “We just have too many people showing up in the hospital uninsured.”

Chaney says he’s working on some ideas to extend coverage that don’t involve Medicaid expansion. But he says it would be easier if the federal government would approve health insurance policies that provided less coverage than what’s mandated by the Affordable Care Act, the health insurance overhaul passed under President Barack Obama.

Amos said he’s opposed to promoting or approving policies that don’t meet ACA guidelines, saying “that will just take us backwards.”

Insurance commissioner is the fourth office sought by the 46-year-old Amos, who provides private job training. Amos, who now lives in Byram, has previously run for central district transportation commissioner, mayor of Jackson and Hinds County supervisor. The 75-year-old Chaney, who lives in Vicksburg, served in the state House of Representatives from 1993 to 1999 and in the state Senate from 2000 to 2008.

Chaney said he’s been working since 2005′s Hurricane Katrina to improve the share of property of the Mississippi Gulf Coast that’s covered by regular insurance policies, instead of the state’s insurer of last resort of insurers that aren’t regulated by the state. It’s been slow going, though, and Chaney said he’s considering mandating that private insurers write more policies to cover wind and hail damage in coastal areas.

The incumbent said he’s also working to divert half of a tax on insurers who aren’t state regulated from subsidizing the state’s insurer of last resort. Instead, he wants some of the money to pay for rural fire trucks and for insurance that would pay firefighters if they suffered certain health problems. Chaney said he’s also working on having the state fire academy teach basic emergency response classes and developing methods for chicken farmers to lower insurance premiums by cutting fire and wind risks.

Amos said he’s skeptical of how insurers use credit ratings to price policies. “You take someone with a good driving record and a poor credit score and its more expensive.” Amos said he leans against the policy but would want a study before making rules against it.

The Democrat said he recognizes the industry needs financial stability but said the state needs him because “I’m more on the side of the consumer.”

Chaney has raised $207,000 this year but has more than $400,000 on hand, thanks to money that was in the bank when the year started. Amos has raised less than $20,000.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy