Obamacare enrollment rides a bus into the Mississippi Delta – By JENNIFER HABERKORN | 3/22/14 6:59 AM EDT

GREENWOOD, Miss. — In the poorest state in the nation, where supper is fried, bars allow smoking, chronic disease is rampant and doctors are hard to come by, Obamacare rolls into town in a lime green bus.

It took some real convincing by the Obama administration and a leap of faith by one state Republican official to get one of the nation’s largest insurance companies — Humana — to set up shop across Mississippi. Virtually no other insurer was willing to do so, discouraged by the acute health needs here and most elected officials’ outright hostility to the law.

Four months and more than 200 bus stops later, enrollment numbers here remain dismal. Only 9 percent of the state’s Obamacare-eligible population have signed up, putting it near the bottom of yet another national statistic.

(PHOTOS: Obamacare in the Mississippi Delta)

Yet the Humana bus rolls, pulling into hospital parking lots and Wal-Mart shopping centers, parking at churches large and small and hitting other obvious targets to find and convince the uninsured that President Barack Obama’s signature health achievement will benefit them. Sometimes the company’s agents see dozens of people per stop. Other times, just a few individuals climb aboard.

The effort in Mississippi illustrates the obstacles the health law must overcome in many parts of the country, particularly in deeply conservative areas where antipathy toward Washington mixes with challenges of geography, education and general skepticism or ignorance of the Affordable Care Act. High rates of poverty and disease — which mark much of this state — don’t necessarily aid recruitment. Add the strident opposition of GOP leaders and enrollment gets that much tougher.

“This law’s letdown in my home state and the premium hikes on hardworking families are no different than the problems we are seeing across the country,” said Rep. Gregg Harper, whose congressional district cuts diagonally across Mississippi. “I have heard from folks I attend church with to small-business owners and everyone in between about their issues enrolling.”

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Second Baby ‘Cured’ of HIV After Early Treatment – By Margaret Hartmann Wednesday at 11:05 PM

`After a Mississippi doctor revealed last year that she accidentally cured a baby born with HIV, skeptics suggested the tests that initially showed she was infected may have been wrong. However, on Wednesday doctors at an AIDS conference in Boston revealed that the virus has been cleared from a second baby born 9 months ago in Long Beach, Calif. In the U.S. transmission from mother to child can usually be prevented via prenatal drugs, but the mother, who is mentally ill and has advanced AIDS, didn’t take the medication she was prescribed. After hearing about the Mississippi baby, the girl’s pediatrician, Dr. Audra Deveikis, put her on a high dose of three drugs used to treat the virus hours after birth. “Of course I had worries,” Dr. Deveikis told the New York Times. “But the mother’s disease was not under control, and I had to weigh the risk of transmission against the toxicity of the meds.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at Mar 6, 2014 12.50

While technically the Long Beach baby, who is now in foster care, isn’t “cured” or “in remission” because she’s still on medication, blood tests have found no virus capable of replicating. The Mississippi child is now 3 and appears to be HIV-free, though she hasn’t been treated for about two years. One researcher said there may be five similar cases in Canada and three in South Africa.

Researchers will soon start a clinical trial with up to 60 babies in the United States, South Africa and Brazil. The trial will take several years, but it looks like doctors may have found a way to cure the 250,000 babies born with HIV each year.


Now That Jan Brewer Has Vetoed SB 1062, Are Religious Discrimination Bills History? – Steven Hsieh on February 27, 2014 – 5:32 PM ET


A couple kisses after learning that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer announces vetoed SB1062, which would’ve granted businesses the right to refuse service to LGBTQ people. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Amid mounting pressure from businesses, activists and US lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer yesterday vetoed a so-called “religious freedom” bill that would’ve granted businesses broad license to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

But Brewer’s veto doesn’t mark the end for this type of legislation, at least not officially.

Four states—Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma—are still considering bills that would allow businesses to deny services on religious grounds. And that’s not to mention the long list of states that considered, but recently rejected, such bills. Before Brewer’s veto, lawmakers had already killed broad “religious freedom” bills in IdahoIndianaMaine and Ohio. More blatantly discriminatory versions inKansasSouth Dakota and Tennessee, which specifically targeted LGBTQ individuals, died this month.

Rose Saxe, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project, said the bills represent a shifting strategy, a “plan b,” among conservative evangelical groups who recognize they’re on the losing side of the same-sex marriage battle. If the national opposition to Arizona’s bill, uniting John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Apple, is any indication, the evangelicals may already be losing this one too. Some lawmakers who voted for “religious freedom” bills are already backtracking on their support.

“It’s so tainted now, it needs to go away,” said Kansas Representative Scott Schwab (R-Olathe), regarding talks by the state’s legislature to rework and reintroduce its “religious freedom bill.” Schwab voted for the bill, but now says he regrets it.

Mississippi Senator David Blount (D-Jackson), another initial supporter of his state’s bill claimed ignorance on its implications, saying in a Facebook post:

I was not aware (nor was any other Senator or interest group or citizen that I have talked to aware) of this intention or possible result when we voted on the bill on Jan. 31. I am opposed to discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based on sexual orientation. Obviously, I should have (all of us should have) been aware of this.

That’s not to say it’s time to claim a total victory. Here are the remaining legislative battles over religious discrimination bills:

Georgia: The state has a pair of bills, one in each state house, that use almost identical language to Arizona’s. While it a House Bill 1023 looks dead, Senate Bill 377 has moved through committee. The senate bill’s sponsor said critics of the bill simply “want the government to be a tool to promote militant atheism.” Mother Jones’s Dana Liebelson has a good report on this one.

aMississippi: Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 2681, also known as the “Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” on January 31. The bill, also similar to Arizona’s, currently sits in a state House committee. It also includes an amendment that would add “In God We Trust” to the state seal.

Missouri: State Senator Wayne Wallingford (R-Cape Girardeau) just introducedhis state’s version, SB 916, on Monday. It is, again, also nearly identical to Arizona’s bill and currently awaits assignment to a Senate committee.

Oklahoma: Lawmakers are reworking a “religious freedom” bill and indicated that its current incarnation is not likely to make it to the floor this legislative session. “We’re still in favor of running a bill like that, but we’re just trying to get the language tightened up to prevent there from being any fiascos like there have been elsewhere,” sponsor Representative Tom Newell (R-Seminole) told the Associated Press.

Read Next: Why hasn’t the NFL threatened to pull the Super Bowl out of Arizona?


Mississippi 2014 Senate election: Anatomy of a takedown – By ALEXANDER BURNS | 2/19/14 5:02 AM EST

OXFORD, Miss. — As Sen. Thad Cochran faces a potentially career-ending primary challenge, his strategy for victory is straightforward: Stress his decades of bringing home federal largesse and his long relationships with home-state Republicans; tap Washington rainmakers to fill his campaign account; and bring in Mississippi political legends like Haley Barbour and Trent Lott to help seal the deal.Chris McDaniel (left) and Thad Cochran are pictured in this composite image. | AP Photos

Chris McDaniel is the biggest intraparty threat to a sitting senator in 2014. | AP Photos

Part of an occasional series on the hottest races of the 2014 midterm election.

Cochran’s opponent in the June 3 showdown, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, is practically salivating over the contrast that it represents.

As the 2014 election cycle begins to accelerate, perhaps no race presents a sharper difference of views on what it means to be a Republican or offer a sharper microcosm of the ongoing GOP civil war than the race in Mississippi.

(On the Ground: POLITICO covers the hottest races of 2014)

And as other GOP primary challengers around the country have faltered, no candidate has emerged as a greater intraparty threat to a sitting senator than McDaniel, a fast-talking 41-year-old litigator who explicitly promises to shatter the status quo of Mississippi’s relationship with Washington. The brash state lawmaker trashes Cochran’s record as an appropriator for their poor home state as a travesty of spending and debt. He has vacuumed up cash from out-of-state conservative groups and names as inspirations both Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a pair of neophyte tea party heroes with whom McDaniel says he has conferred about the race.

“If we’re able to defeat Thad Cochran in this primary race — he’s been there 41 years — do you know the shock waves it’ll send through the system?” McDaniel asked a hushed audience of more than 100 in a cavernous atrium at the University of Mississippi on Thursday. “We have to shake the establishment.”

McDaniel’s bid to topple Cochran has stirred intense passions here in the Deep South state that has prized longevity in its politicians for generations, relying on the pipeline of federal dollars that only senior appropriators like Cochran can ensure. The state has elected only five senators since World War II; since 1978, Cochran has been one of them.

The senator and his allies proudly tout Cochran-backed legislation that delivers for Mississippi, like the recent five-year farm bill that hard-right national groups opposed. An old-school Senate power broker, Cochran shrugged to a local TV interviewer this week: “The tea party, you know, is something I don’t really know a lot about.”

(PHOTOS: Senators up for election in 2014)

The early skirmishes in the race have been bitter enough that state and national Democrats have wondered if they could be looking at a repeat of the 2012 Indiana Senate race, when a hard-edged challenger turned out longtime GOP Sen. Dick Lugar only to lose the general election. The Mississippi Democratic Party, which has struggled to field competitive statewide candidates in any race in recent years, intends to poll the contest this month. Former Congressman Travis Childers is in talks with national Democrats about entering before the March 1 deadline.

Anatomy of a takedown

Among the conservative activists challenging incumbent U.S. senators in 2014, McDaniel is the only one to receive the unanimous support of all the powerful outside groups that fuel campaigns on the right. When he announced last October, he won instant endorsements from the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Madison project; FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots followed only a little while later.

It didn’t happen by accident.

Read more:


Deep South in winter storm emergency – 28 January 2014 Last updated at 15:20 ET

A man walked along a snow-covered street in Muskegon, Michigan, on 27 January 2014

The US South and Midwest are facing another winter storm

The US Deep South, a region used to sultry weather and hurricane warnings, is preparing for a severe winter storm.

States of emergency have been declared in the southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

As many as 50 million people across the region could be affected in a winter storm over the next two days.

Many schools in the region are closed and road crews are at the ready. About 3,000 flights were grounded by weather on Tuesday.

Dangerous situation

Forecasters predicted up to 1ft (30.5cm) of snow in parts of Virginia and up to 10in along the North Carolina coast.

Motorists from Texas to Virginia have been warned to stay off the roads.

“This is a very dangerous situation because snow and ice are very rare,” Robert Latham, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, told USA Today.

“We need everyone to have an emergency plan together for this.”

The potential for ice was more of a concern than the snow totals, Jason Deese with the National Weather Service said.

Traffic came to a halt in the early afternoon in Atlanta as snow began falling and commuters tried to leave work early.

In northern Alabama, some schools held classes, but quickly had to change course, dismissing students early when the storm arrived earlier than predicted.

Officials feared icy road conditions would force hundreds of students to spend the night in classrooms or gyms.

“They have food and we have gas heat and the electricity is on, so that is a possibility,” DeKalb County Emergency Management Director Anthony Clifton told the Associated Press news agency.

“We will have a campout before we will send them out into an unsafe situation.”

Snow ‘rollers’

Four people died in Itawamba County, Mississippi, when a fire destroyed a mobile home. Investigators believe a heater caused the blaze.

Parts of the US Midwest, meanwhile, were struggling through another bout of near-record cold temperatures.

Schools were closed in several central US states for a second consecutive day because of the cold.

Parts of Minnesota saw temperatures plunge to as low as 35 to 50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit as the state struggled with a shortage of natural gas due to an earlier pipeline explosion in Canada.

Residents in the US states of Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania also witnessed an unusual weather phenomenon.

Numerous naturally occurring donut-like snowballs – known as snow rollers and formed when wind blows snow along the ground – were reported.

A woman and her dog walked through a field filled with snow rollers near Oil City, Pennsylvania, on 27 January 2014Donut-like snow rollers were reported in Pennsylvania (pictured) and elsewhere
Snow rollers dot a field near Oil City, Pennsylvania, on 27 January 2014Snow rollers are formed when wind blows snow along the ground
Traffic crept along I-55 in Jackson, Mississippi, on 28 January 2014Snow and ice gridlocked traffic in parts of Mississippi
A man used a snow blower in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on 27 January 2014 A man using a snow blower in Minneapolis, Minnesota
An avalanche blocked a roadway in Keystone Canyon in Alaska on 26 January 2014 An avalanche covered the only road into the coastal community of Valdez, Alaska
A postal worker delivered mail in subzero temperatures in Berea, Ohio, on 28 January 2014 Postal workers braved subzero temperatures in Ohio
A homeless man bundled up in blankets in Chicago, Illinois, on 28 January 2014
Chicago residents attempted to stay warm as the temperature dropped to -23C (-11F)

Mississippi’s economy: Down but not out – 31 December 2013 Last updated at 20:01 ET By Rob Young Business reporter, BBC World Service, Mississippi

Highway signs near Clarksdale, Mississippi, US

Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the United States

In parts of Mississippi it is hard to believe this is the United States, the richest country on earth.

In the town of Clarksdale, in the Mississippi Delta, there is street after street of rundown, dilapidated wooden houses.

Shabby-looking stores with bars on the windows sit alongside crumbling buildings.

Mississippi is America’s poorest state – 22% of the population live in poverty.

Life is tough for many people here.

“Start Quote

It’s kinda slow round here, the income’s down – money’s tight”

Carlos FieldsConstruction worker

Angela Mixon, 30, used to be a teacher. She has not worked in two years and now spends her days sitting outside her publicly-funded apartment in the sunshine, talking to friends.

“It’s hard to find a job here, really hard. You have to go two or three hours away to get a job.

“I’d do anything, as long as it made me money,” she says.

So how is she able to afford to live? “The grace of God,” she replies. “He blesses you now and then.”

Her neighbour, Carlos Fields, 45, is a self-employed construction worker. He has not got much work on at the moment.

“It’s kinda slow round here, the income’s down – money’s tight,” he says.

Seasonal work

These are common stories.

The median household income in Mississippi is $38,882 (£23,780),according to the latest US Census Bureau data – more than a quarter lower than the national figure of $53,046.

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Pitching Obamacare to a tough crowd in Mississippi – Mark Mardell North America editor BBC News – 19 December 2013 Last updated at 12:12 ET

 The BBC’s Mark Mardell assesses what the potential legacy of Obamacare

The Reverend Michael Minor, resplendent in a mustard-coloured robe, stomps and sways as he belts out the words of his sermon, a synthesizer stabbing and swooping behind his voice.

“I said, are there any saved in the house today – saved, sanctified, filled with the Holy Ghost – who know they’ve been saved?”

He bounces on his feet, emphatically, keeping rhythm.

The music at Oak Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Hernando, Mississippi, is pretty amazing. But it’s not the funk or the faith that sets them apart in the Deep South – it’s that fried chicken is banned from church socials.

Mr Minor enforced the ban on such fatty food after he became worried about his congregation’s health – he was conducting too many funerals. Now he’s got a new cause.

He sees signing people up to Obamacare as a spiritual duty, a cure for his congregation’s ills.

“You hurt mentally because you worry about not having insurance,” he says.

“Start Quote

They are leaving crying, they’re so happy that they have [healthcare]”

Michael Minor

“You hurt physically because you are not getting the check-ups and things you need. And then spiritually because you are wondering about your relationship with God.

“And if you are not careful, you are wondering how God let you get into this spot where you don’t have coverage.”

Oldest enemy

Mississippi is the poorest state in the US. It also has a huge number of people without health insurance – one in five.

It is exactly the sort of place Obamacare is supposed to help.

But the Republican Governor, Phil Bryant, will not spend government money to expand Medicaid, the US healthcare scheme for the poor. He has halted plans to set up healthcare exchanges, a one-stop online shop for those seeking private insurance.

So the pastor is what is known as a “navigator” for Obamacare – he gets federal funding to sign people up.

“We have more and more people coming to our office here who are excited about having insurance, and they don’t look like me,” he says, meaning they are white or Hispanic.

“They are leaving crying, they’re so happy that they have it.”

He’s sanguine about the state’s opposition – he says people will do what they have to do to get elected. Not all in the congregation feel the same way.

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