Senate would sabotage state’s health, well-being

Feb. 10, 2013 @ 12:37 AM

On Monday, I lost faith in North Carolina’s elected leadership.

I was part of a large group of medical professionals that attended an evening session of the N.C. Senate to protest their attempt to block Medicaid expansion for North Carolinians. I was shocked by what I saw while sitting in the Senate gallery.

It’s clear that Senate Republicans are intent on sabotaging the well-being of our citizens and our economy on behalf of a handful of poorly conceived ideological principles.

Republican senators gave no logical arguments against expanding Medicaid.  Senator Tom Apodaca, the bill’s lead sponsor, compared his wife’s nagging to the federal government. 

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said that there is “no money tree," displaying his lack of understanding of how the expansion will be financed as well as its economic benefits.

Indeed, the Republicans offered a few weak metaphors but at times seemed to not even understand that the Affordable Care Act is, in fact, an established law.  They seemed to be saying that because they do not agree with the principles of the Affordable Care Act, they are unwilling to think through the practical issues at hand for deciding what is best for our state.

Even Gov. Pat McCrory, a fellow Republican, urged them to hold off.  Why would the governor make such a request of the members of his party? 

McCrory outlined in his letter to the Senate that North Carolina has already received millions of federal dollars to fund NC FAST, a computer system that will help the state track Medicaid eligibility and fight fraud.  If Senate Bill 4 passes, the state will lose the existing funding for this endeavor.  McCrory recognizes that he needs more time “to evaluate the serious financial ramifications of Senate Bill 4 to North Carolina taxpayers”. 

But perhaps McCrory also realizes how grave a mistake it would be to refuse to expand Medicaid. 

The Democrats in the Senate clearly understood both the human and fiscal aspects of the situation.  To block the expansion of Medicaid would deny health insurance for more than 500,000 North Carolinians.  Politicians can debate whether the uninsured “deserve” access to quality health care, but doctors know the toll that being uninsured takes on human life is not debatable.  

People without insurance have a 25 percent greater risk of premature death than those who are insured.  Researchers estimate that our state would bear the responsibility for 2,840 deaths each year resulting from a lack of insurance if we do not expand Medicaid. 

It’s too early to tell whether or  not the lives hanging in the balance on this bill weigh on the conscience of McCrory. But from my view in the gallery, it’s clear that many Republican senators don’t value these human lives.

Ironically, the Senate Republicans do claim to care about the state’s economy, which is funny because Medicaid expansion would pump billions of dollars into North Carolina’s economy every year. And according to a new report from the N.C. Institute of Medicine, the expansion of Medicaid would create 25,000 new jobs for the state by 2016. 

Medicaid expansion would be entirely funded by the federal government for the first three years and 90 percent funded in years thereafter. North Carolina will lose over $15 billion in federal funds infused into our state’s economy if we refuse the expansion.  This money has already been paid by NC taxpayers and will go to fund other states’ Medicaid programs if North Carolina refuses to expand.

We must also expand Medicaid to protect our rural hospitals, keep them open and save thousands of jobs. Under the Affordable Care Act, rural hospitals will no longer receive supplemental funding to care for uninsured patients because they should be moving to Medicaid.  Without Medicaid expansion, many of these hospitals will be forced to close because the financial burden of caring for the uninsured will be too great. 

It is very clear what is best for the people of our state and our economy.  Take a stand with health care professionals who understand the dilemma that uninsured patients face every day and urge Gov. McCrory and the N.C. House to reject the Senate’s attempts to sabotage the health and well-being of North Carolina. 

Jamie Carter is a Durham native, Jordan High School graduate and UNC medical student, MD/MPH class of 2014.