By Lynn Evans

Word is that Harvard Professor Dr. Atul Gawande’s article on McAllen, Texas, is required reading in the White House. Published in the June 1, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, the Boston surgeon asks why McAllen’s health care costs are the second highest health care costs in the nation, behind Miami. His conclusions have much to teach us about the problems with America’s health care system today.

First, a little background. This year, 64.4 million Americans who are too young for Medicare will spend more than 10 percent of their pre-tax income on health care and health insurance. And that percentage is growing. Buying health insurance for their families is rapidly becoming too expensive for middle-income families, and simply impossible for low-income families. Mississippi’s low median family income makes this problem even more difficult. At 43 percent, Mississippi has the lowest percentage of children covered by private insurance, and the highest percentage of children eligible for Medicaid and CHIP at 89 percent.

Although Mississippi Medicaid’s health care costs for children are among the lowest in the country – about $1,800 each – Medicaid costs for adults are among the highest at almost $8,000. What Dr. Gawande found in McAllen has some clues as to why that might be.