Editorial: Rural hospital in bankruptcy; legislators won't expand Medicaid

Posted July 14

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger

A CBC Editorial: Friday, July 14, 2017; Editorial # 8186
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Morehead Memorial, a 108-bed community hospital in Eden, N.C. – Senate leader Phil Berger’s hometown hospital – is on life-support.

Earlier this week the 93-year-old facility, which traces its legacy to a $7,500 gift from Marshall Field and Company (more currently known as Fieldcrest Mills), filed for Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy protection.

The move allows the hospital to keep serving the largely rural area north of Greensboro and keeps the 700 people who work for the hospital on the payroll as it undergoes a financial reorganization to better manage its debt.

Still, the ultimate fate of Morehead Memorial is uncertain. It reflects a growing national crisis of access to health care services, particularly in rural areas.

In the last seven years, four rural hospitals in the state have closed or dramatically changed their services:Blowing Rock Hospital became a rehabilitation facility; Yadkin Valley Community hospital closed, Franklin Hospital in Louisburg ended operations and Pungo Hospital in Belhaven closed.

There are plenty of reasons why Morehead, like many rural hospitals across the state and nation, have fallen on hard financial times. But in North Carolina – and Rockingham County in particular – it is neither inaccurate nor unfair to point one finger squarely at the state’s most powerful legislator.

Berger has led the charge to block federally-funded expansion of Medicaid – that would provide health coverage to more than a half-million North Carolinians who don’t have it now. He’s even gone to court to block Gov. Roy Cooper’s efforts to accept the aid and expand health coverage.

Don’t think for a second Berger’s opposition to Medicaid expansion doesn’t have a cost to his community.

In Rockingham County, along with the two rural counties beside it, the Medicaid rejection has meant: 450 fewer jobs created; $171 million less in business activity; and 4,520 people blocked from getting Medicaid. All that is according to the Cone Health Foundation and the Kate B. Reynold Charitable Trust’s detailed examination of the financial impact of North Carolina’s failure to accept the federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility.

“It’s a rural hospital, we’re a non-expansion state, we know that in an average rural hospital in North Carolina, 70 percent are Medicaid, Medicare or uninsured,” Julie Henry of the N.C. Hospital Association, told N.C. Health News.

Who pays when a hospital has to treat a patient who doesn’t have insurance? Where does Berger think hospitals get the money now to care for indigent patients – osmosis? Should hospitals turn these patients away?

Berger leans on a worn-out old saw to deflect any responsibility, looking to pin the hospital’s financial challenges on regulatory burdens created by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The reality is that the ACA’s option for states to expand Medicaid would have saved lives, created jobs and helped keep rural hospitals out of bankruptcy court. But Berger says no.

In Washington, Senate leaders continue efforts to force-feed an unpopular Obamacare repeal that will eliminate health coverage for 1.3 million North Carolinians who are now covered. North Carolina’s Sen. Richard Burr says he’s all for it. Thom Tillis, the state’s other senator, says he’ll back anything that can get 51 votes.

Meanwhile back in North Carolina, Berger and his cohorts in the legislature are doing all they can to block efforts to expand health coverage. What kind of responsible elected representatives would work so hard to deny access to health care for the North Carolinians who need it most? How many people have to die and declare personal bankruptcy before Berger cares?

Folks in Rockingham County concerned about the fate of their hospital and healthcare for themselves, their families and neighbors don’t need to look much further than one of their neighbors, Sen. Phil Berger.


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  • Ken Ackerman Jul 15, 7:28 a.m.
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    How do YOU know they don't work? Did you go count them all yourself? Did one of your drinking buddies tell you that? I dare you to go to Rockingham county and tell those people to their faces that you think they are lazy and no good because they choose not to work. Though I'm sure many won't be able to get off work to meet with you.

    You are an example of all that is despicable in our country's politics right now. Lump everyone you don't like into a single group and apply a nasty label and trust that others will be convinced through repetition.

  • Teddy Fowler Jul 14, 2:55 p.m.
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    Two of my former doctors have gone private... meaning that you have to pay a yearly fee to join the group that they will see... they do that so they don't have to accept Medicare or Medicaid patients as the gov't underpays them terribly. So they can see fewer patients... provide more timely and better care... unfortunately I don't have the money to pay for this so I keep having to change my doctor.... More people on gov't healthcare will just exacerbate the problem....

  • Chris Perdue Jul 14, 12:16 p.m.
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    All of these people you mentioned are still covered under Medicaid in NC. And Medicaid spending continues to increase. There have been no cuts. But you can't just be eligible for free healthcare here unless you meet certain criteria, which you mentioned in your original post.

  • Chris Perdue Jul 14, 12:14 p.m.
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    That applies in other states. But in NC, you are subsidy eligible down to 100% of poverty level if you meet the other criteria for Medicaid.

  • Catherine Edwards Jul 14, 11:45 a.m.
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    "is to give free health insurance through medicaid to able bodied men and women who could work but choose not to.."

    Medicaid expansion is to cover those making too much for Medicaid (meaning they work), and too little for the subsidies. Basically the working poor.

    So what's up with your hatred for them? Deny them health insurance, let them go bankrupt, let their diseases and injuries go untreated.

    At least with Medicaid expansion the hospitals do get paid, by the insurance. Otherwise, they don't get paid at all. And this is for life-saving treatment! Do you deny them a life? I hope you don't consider yourself a Christian, because those aren't Christian values.

  • Chris Grimes Jul 14, 11:24 a.m.
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    I don't know if that's true -- that Medicaid payments are not sufficient to cover hospitals' costs -- but if they treat patients who have no insurance and are too poor to pay, Medicaid helps! In states like NC that didn't accept Medicaid expansion, small and mostly rural hospitals are struggling. For the most part, their counterparts in states that did accept expansion are doing relatively better financially.

  • Chris Grimes Jul 14, 11:05 a.m.
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    That characterization of Medicaid recipients is not at all accurate -- half of Medicaid recipients are children, one-fourth are elderly or disabled (a majority of nursing home residents are on Medicaid). The other fourth are working, most full time but at low wages, or serving as caregivers. This article from Consumer Reports, a politically unbiased magazine, is a quick summary: http://www.consumerreports.org/medicaid/whos-on-medicaid-might-surprise-you/ . The myth that the poor are lazy might be reassuring ("that could never happen to me -- bad things don't happen to good people"), but it's an inaccurate and unkind myth -- please don't buy into it.
    Also, rural hospital closings have accelerated at a higher rate in states that did not expand Medicaid.

  • Teddy Fowler Jul 14, 9:12 a.m.
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    Medicaid is probably one of the reasons some hospitals have financial troubles... as the federal gov't doesn't pay them enough for the services they provide to people on Medicaid...

  • Chris Perdue Jul 14, 8:57 a.m.
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    The CBC has deep pockets. Throw them a couple of million to help out. Nobody is stopping you. But you want it to come out of our pockets and Medicaid expansion would eventually fall back on the taxpayers of NC.

  • Chris Perdue Jul 14, 8:55 a.m.
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    So the CBC solution to help rural hospitals that have been struggling for decades is to give free health insurance through medicaid to able bodied men and women who could work but choose not to. Someone who is twenty-five years old and chooses to do nothing all day should have access to coverage that has no co-pays, no deductible, free Rx, free trips to ER, etc. while someone who is out there working as hard as they can to make it for themselves is paying very high premiums, co-pays, Rx, and a necessary trip to the Er will cost them thousands since it is now going towards deductible. In Bill Clinton's words, this is crazy. The hardest working are paying twice as much for half the coverage--he said it, not me. BTW, I grew up in the Franklin hospital in Louisburg, , and that place has struggled to operate since the county sold out in 1986 and it became privately owned, so don't think for a minute this all happened because the evil republicans did not expand Medicaid.