The few, the proud, the timid.
It’s infuriating. What’s the biggest health issue North Carolina is tackling right now? Maybe it’s bringing under control skyrocketing health costs that are making employer-provided health insurance too costly for hundreds of thousands of families. Or perhaps it’s an attempt to extend affordable health coverage to more than a tiny fraction of the 1.3 million people without health insurance. There’s also an opportunity for a major push to expand quality preventive care.
Nope! It’s Medicaid relief for counties. This is an effort that means raising hundreds of millions in tax dollars and shifting of governmental responsibilities – something North Carolina hasn’t done for decades in the healthcare field. This effort will not take on a single one of the above “big three” health problems facing North Carolina. It won’t extend coverage to a single individual. It won’t lower a single health cost. It won’t deal with our abysmal rates of stroke, diabetes, and infant mortality.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think we should be relieving poorer counties – especially those with little industrial base and high property taxes — of Medicaid health costs. But come on North Carolina. Where are the big ideas? Is this the state that conceived a statewide “good health plan” in the 1940s with the goal of leaving no adult, no matter what their financial condition, without healthcare? That built one of the finest hospitals and medical schools in the country at Chapel Hill during some of the poorest times in our state? That came together to fund Research Triangle Park, building the groundwork for a new century’s economy? That conceived and implemented Smart Start, the early childhood program that is copied around the country?
Healthcare consistently ranks as the first or second issue on people’s minds after Iraq. You would think the General Assembly would be brimming with ideas and solutions. Investment of a few hundred million dollars could fund a deep-discount health insurance plan for small business, guarantee every parent in the state affordable kid coverage, extend basic plans to many childless adults and expand coverage of parents. A real visionary could do these things and remove the obligation to pay for Medicaid from poorer counties.
But no – we’re saddled with debate – debate no less – over a seven million dollar limited health plan for only a portion of kids lacking insurance and a high risk pool that, while necessary, will cover literally a fraction of a percent of NC’s 1.3 million uninsured. It’s embarrassing and a sad commentary on how out of step NC’s leaders are with what matters to ordinary North Carolinians.