Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Cooper needs to expand Medicaid so more in N.C. have health care

Posted December 23, 2016

A CBC Editorial: Friday, Dec. 23, 2016; Editorial# 8101
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Efforts to revive the hospital in Belhaven in rural Eastern North Carolina are, like a medical patient, on life support. A community-based group, seeking to buy the now-closed facility and reopen at least portions of it, was in a Raleigh courtroom earlier this week trying to save the facility. A temporary court order has, for now, halted demolition of the building.

The hospital was closed in July 2014 by then-owners Vidant Health. Since then, those with medical emergencies must travel a minimum of 3o miles for emergency care.

This week a Wake County Superior Court judge heard arguments regarding the current owners’ desire to demolish the building and sell the site, as well as from those, including Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal, who want to return it to use as a medical facility.

The reality, however, is the issue is more than the fate of a tiny hospital in a small town in rural Beaufort County. It is illustrative of the struggle going on in rural communities throughout North Carolina and the nation. In the last six years more than 75 rural hospitals have closed across the nation, half of them in the South and three, including Belhaven, in North Carolina.

Because many people in Belhaven and the rural communities around it are poor (in Belhaven 1 in 3 residents live below the poverty line) they don’t have insurance – which puts the financial viability of any hospital at risk.

If North Carolina had opted to participate in a federally-funded Medicaid program to make health insurance available to the poor, the financial outlook for rural hospitals, like Belhaven, would have improved. North Carolina refused to sign onto the program, missing out on billions of federal tax dollars. Lawmakers blamed concerns over how to pay for the program if federal support ended – which is highly unlikely – and more stubbornly, balked out of partisan opposition to the Affordable Healthcare Act – Obamacare.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina have found that rural hospitals in states that did accept the additional federal funds improved their chances of turning a profit while it didn’t have any impact on urban-based hospitals.

Expanding Medicaid, several studies have shown, boosts local economies and creates jobs. The cost of North Carolina’s partisan opposition to expanding Medicaid has been more than dollars or jobs. Access to adequate health care in rural communities is suffering.  Timely access to emergency care is, quite literally, a life-and-death matter.

Mayor O’Neal has walked 700 miles to Washington to draw attention to the plight of his community’s hospital and hundreds like it around the nation.

He walked 130 miles to Raleigh last year to increase awareness of the plight of his community.

We doubt the General Assembly is any more interested now, than before, in expanding participation in Medicaid – even if it is almost fully federally funded.

But there will be a new governor and new leaders in the Department of Health and Human Services in a few days. We urge Gov.-elect Roy Cooper to explore ways to use the authority and discretion he has to make health coverage more available and ultimately get North Carolina into the federal program.

It will provide much needed health care to those who can least afford it and bring federal tax dollars back to North Carolina instead of sending them to other states. It could also help open a hospital or an emergency care facility in a rural community. That would save lives.

15 Comments

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  • Matt Clinton Dec 23, 6:47 p.m.
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    My solution is this: Private citizens, like yourself, the wealthy owner of CBC, and anyone else concerned about the plight of the poor can pool your own resources to form your own charity, insurance company, or health care provider and take care of whoever you wish without having to worry about which party is in power at the time.

    The fact that this idea never seems to occur to any of you makes me highly skeptical of your concern for anyone. Put your own money where your mouth is before you start accusing me of wanting people to die or whatever other cliched nonsense you wish to spew.

  • Alfred Barnes Dec 23, 5:58 p.m.
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    I'll jump ahead. Oh, you work? Feeling guilt, why is that?

  • Alfred Barnes Dec 23, 5:56 p.m.
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    It's simple. Health care is not a right, neither is food, shelter, or clothing. You work for them. you do know what that is, don't you? Had to ask.

  • Alfred Barnes Dec 23, 5:53 p.m.
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    Obviously, health care must be rationed. I prefer ability to pay. Do you have another metric?

    Perhaps a single payer system. How then do you ration? No, thank you! We've kicked the can as far down the road as possible, beginning with medicare in the sixties. Ask any doctor what they think of it. Same as then, but DC wouldn't listen then, and progressive do gooders aren't listening now.

  • Anita Gibson Dec 23, 4:00 p.m.
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    The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" ":Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,"

  • Drew Savicki Dec 23, 12:07 p.m.
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    Replacing Obamacare will take at least 3-4 years and by the time the GOP does it we could very well have a new President. There's no point in Cooper waiting. Even when Obamcare is officially repealed, it will still be federally funded until a replacement is implemented.

  • Robert Hartley Dec 23, 10:51 a.m.
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    Are there no workhouses?

  • Paul Donovan Dec 23, 9:04 a.m.
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    I would advise him to follow the state's constitution and work with the GA, that he has totally alienated, to pass a bill that works instead of trying to do anything by executive fiat. Also, we know that Obamacare is going to be repealed and replaced. He needs to wait to see what that means. Trump has spoken about giving block grants to the states for Medicaid as part of his reform.

  • Chris Grimes Dec 23, 8:43 a.m.
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    Oops -- format on comment above didn't appear as planned. This should clarify:

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    What good is an urgent care facility if you have no health insurance and no way to pay for an urgent care visit? Expanding Medicaid would make it possible for the low-income folks in Belhaven to have insurance, so the rural hospitals would actually get paid for providing the needed health care (and the poor could more easily access health care). It's a win-win situation all around, and that's not a Pollyanna mentality talking -- it works just fine in states that have opted to expand Medicare.

  • Chris Grimes Dec 23, 8:29 a.m.
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    Is there no urgent care facility? Lot's of people live in areas under served by fully staffed hospitals or emergency rooms.
    Read more at http://www.wral.com/share/page/1896337/?fb_connect_ctn=1&id=16364518#XRecY3RpdktfVh4c.99
    What good is an urgent care facility if you have no health insurance and no way to pay for an urgent care visit? Expanding Medicaid would make it possible for the low-income folks in Belhaven to have insurance, so the rural hospitals would actually get paid for providing the needed health care (and the poor could more easily access health care). It's a win-win situation all around, and that's not a Pollyanna mentality talking -- it works just fine in states that have opted to expand Medicare.

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