Editorial: Rural hospital in bankruptcy; legislators won't expand Medicaid
Posted July 14
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.