Commentary

Against Ebola? Support Medicaid expansion

People fear the unfamiliar. It’s human nature. When a new threat emerges, our minds often race about it — even when the same old threats are far more worrisome.

This is one reason a healthy (heh) number of my friends are anxious about the Ebola virus. Maybe yours are, too. Heck, maybe you are. Well, here’s the good news: while certainly a frightening disease, Ebola is unlikely to be a widespread public health threat in this country.

There’s bad news, however. Another, less flashy threat to public health is far more dangerous to people in North Carolina and states like it. (The additional bad news: it’s also deeply troubling that Americans are more concerned about a disease killing one person inside our borders than the nearly 5,000 Ebola has killed in Africa so far. That’s a topic for another day.)

The real public health threat is the failure of some American states, including the Old North State, to expand Medicaid.

Medicaid expansion would help more of our neighbors get health insurance, which is vital in preventing the advance of disease — and the early deaths that come with that disease. Here in North Carolina alone, about half a million people lack health insurance that would have been covered had we made the choice to expand Medicaid.

What does that mean? It means more preventable deaths every year. A team of researchers for Harvard found that failure to expand Medicaid could mean as many as 1,145 more deaths in North Carolina every year.

Based on those numbers, that’s about three more preventable deaths in North Carolina every day. Think about the math of that. One person has died in the United States from Ebola. That death is a tragedy. Because we haven’t expanded Medicaid, we face three times that number of tragedies every single day.

Expanding Medicaid would make us a healthier, wealthier, more productive state. With more people able to go to the doctor, we’d also have fewer outbreaks of diseases that, while not as viscerally frightening as Ebola, are far more devastating.

Seeing this, some conservatives — including Ohio’s John Kasich and NC’s Thom Tillis — have come around on the issue of expanding Medicaid. Good for them. Hopefully others will follow suit.

We should, of course, do all we can to fight Ebola — especially in those nations more beset with the crisis than our own. But we shouldn’t let the devil we just met distract us from the daily heath threat that bedevils North Carolina.

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