Mike Espy, vying to win the Nov. 27 runoff election for U.S. Senate, revealed recently one of the reasons the issue of health care in general, and the issue of pre-existing conditions in particular, is important to him.

During an event at the Jackson Medical Mall where health care issues were discussed, Espy said that his now well known raspy voice is the result of a pre-existing condition. While stressing that his pre-existing condition is not life threatening, he did say that it was expensive to treat and that he constantly battles with his insurance company over the issue.

“It makes me empathetic to people who have health problems,” he said after the event. “I have seen reports and one-third of Mississippians have pre-existing conditions…

“This is not a Democratic issue. It is not a Republican issue. It is a health issue.”

He said the issue of health care impacts all Mississippians – regardless of race or gender.

Interim U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, whom Espy is vying to defeat on Nov. 27, announced Wednesday she is co-sponsoring legislation with Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., to protect people with pre-existing conditions.

“Everyone understands that penalizing people for pre-existing conditions is unfair,” Hyde-Smith said in a prepared statement, “I don’t know many people without pre-existing conditions. This legislation underscores the fact that regardless of the details on how a Republican-led Obamacare replacement package is written, coverage for Mississippians with pre-existing conditions will be protected.”

The bill, named Ensuring Coverage for Patients with Pre-Existing Conditions Act, actually was introduced by Tillis on Aug. 23. On that day, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Tupelo Republican, signed on as a co-sponsor. Since that day, 15 senators have signed on as co-sponsors. Hyde-Smith was the last  senator to sign on as a co-sponsor – on Tuesday, according to information found on the congressional web page.

Under current law, pre-existing conditions are protected through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. The administration of President Donald Trump, which Hyde-Smith has said she supports 100 percent, has joined a lawsuit that if successful would end the protection for pre-existing conditions. Hyde-Smith said her bill would protect pre-existing conditions regardless of what happens in the lawsuit.

“I’m committed to working toward a solution that ensures that any future legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare preserves important protections for Mississippians with pre-existing conditions, while also expanding options and lowering health care costs for Mississippi families,” she said.

Speaking to reporters in Jackson Wednesday after appearing at a Working Together Jackson event, Espy said Hyde-Smith is trying to mislead the voters on her positions on pre-existing conditions. He said her legislation would cover people with pre-existing condition, but not necessarily the pre-existing condition.

“This bill is a sad attempt by Cindy Hyde-Smith to cover up the lies she told Mississippi voters last month,” said Danny Blanton, communication director for the Espy campaign.

In addition, Espy pointed out that Hyde-Smith voted against a bill that would have mandated that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions even when selling policies that were exempt from some federal regulations.

Of her vote, Chris Gallegos, her spokesperson, said at the time, “Sen. Hyde-Smith voted to protect health insurance options for Mississippians by allowing them to purchase short-term policies. She opposed the Democrats’ resolution, which would have dismantled short-term policy options restored by the Trump administration. Mississippians need more health insurance choices.”

Espy says he believes all those options should provide coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Of his own pre-existing condition, Espy said about five years ago he had a virus – which he thought at the time was just a bad cold – that he left untreated. The result is that he woke up one day and his voice was gone, and he had trouble finding a diagnosis for what was causing the problem. He said a friend, an instructor at Buffalo University in New York, finally provided the diagnosis.

In simple terms, the virus damaged a nerve that affected his vocal muscles. He travels to Nashville for regular shots to address the issue. But the shots run in cycles and his campaign schedule affects his timing of taking the shots, resulting in his voice being hoarse at times, raspy at other times and stronger or weaker depending on the cycle.

“I will be a strong voice, not a weak voice for Mississippi in the Senate,” he said.

Follow Mississippi Today’s full coverage of the historic runoff election between Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.