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Veteran Washington Post columnist Dana Millbank gets things just about right in this new essay about the stubborn refusal of the state’s conservative political leaders to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Millbank’s column was inspired by Belhaven mayor Adam O’Neal’s march to Washington that was designed to highlight the plight of his small town that lost its hospital thanks the state’s Medicaid decision:

O’Neal arrived on Capitol Hill carrying his hiking pole and wearing trail shoes, shorts and a “Save our Hospital” T-shirt. He was accompanied by about 250 supporters, most affiliated with labor unions, and by civil rights leaders. The hospital closure disproportionately affects African Americans. But Gibbs is white, and so is Crystal Price, who, with her young son, joined the mayor on the stage.

Price, 27 and an employee at Wendy’s, has no health coverage and spoke tearfully about her cervical cancer. “They don’t want to expand Medicaid, so families like mine .?.?. have to decide if we’re going to pay for our children’s health care or our own,” she said. “How many have to bury their loved ones, and how many children like my own will have to grow up without a parent because you want more money in your pockets?”

For O’Neal, any ideological doubts about Obamacare are dwarfed by the disgrace of a young working mother unable to get cancer treatment.

“I mean, that’s wrong,” he said. “Conservatives — everybody — should think that’s wrong.”

Read Millbank’s entire column by clicking here.

Here are two morning editorials that ought to be a “must reads” for North Carolina’s conservative political leaders:

The first comes from the Fayetteville Observer and it’s entitled “Yes, Republicans can expand Medicaid too.” As it notes:

Last month, hundreds of representatives from North Carolina hospitals and other health-care institutions brought a united message to Raleigh: Cuts in the Medicaid program are causing them serious economic harm. Further cuts could be disastrous.

That doesn’t begin to consider the financial drain that comes from treating the thousands of North Carolinians who have no health insurance at all – those who are ineligible for Medicaid but too poor to afford conventional health insurance. By law, hospitals must treat them if they show up in the emergency room, even though there is no chance that they can pay their bill….

That’s one reason why officials in Republican-led Indiana changed their minds about Medicaid participation in May, developing a hybrid state-federal system that will bring coverage to more low-income residents there.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, is using the supplementary Medicaid money to fund a state health-insurance plan for low-income residents. But it will have the same net effect in bringing coverage to those who don’t have it.

That’s a lesson in that for our GOP leaders, who have resisted participation in Obamacare. Don’t resist. Take the money and build a program that works.

The second comes from the Wilmington Star News. It’s entitled: “Instead of bullying children fleeing violence, put blame where it belongs.”

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In a new post this afternoon, Jesse Cross-Call at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports the latest confirmation that North Carolina is shooting itself in the foot with its stubborn and shortsighted refusal to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of uninsured people under the Affordable Care Act.

As a growing number of reports increasingly make clear, a state’s decision whether to expand Medicaid as part of health reform has real-life effects on its residents and its businesses.  In the 26 states and the District of Columbia that have expanded Medicaid (see map), the positive benefits are already playing out.  Here’s some of the latest information:

  • Hospitals are providing less uncompensated care.  In Arizona, hospitals reported that the Medicaid expansion is the chief reason for a 30 percent decline in the amount of uncompensated care they have provided so far this year, compared with a year ago.  The Colorado Hospital Association found a similar decline in charity care through April when it surveyed hospitals in 15 states that have expanded Medicaid and 15 that have not.
  • Medicaid expansion is driving large gains in health coverage.  A survey conducted by the Urban Institute finds that while the uninsurance rate is dropping across the country, states that have expanded Medicaid have seen a drop in the percentage of non-elderly adults who are uninsured by more than one-third — a 37.7 decline — while the uninsured rate fell by only 9 percent among states that haven’t expanded.  A survey from the Commonwealth Fund found a similar trend. Read More

The mayor of a small coastal town with a recently-shuttered rural hospital began a nearly 300 mile walk to Washington, D.C. to call attention to his community’s lack of emergency medical care.

Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal  (Photo by Adam Linker)

Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal
(Photo by Adam Linker)

Adam O’Neal, the Republican mayor of Belhaven on North Carolina’s Inner Banks, began his walk after a brokered plan with Vidant Health to keep the Pungo District Hospital open fell apart last month. He’s expected to arrive in Washington in two weeks.

The nearest hospital and emergency care to the Beaufort County town is now in Greenville, nearly 50 miles and an hour’s drive away from Belhaven.

O’Neal has partnered with the N.C. NAACP to call for both Medicaid expansion and for the Belhaven hospital to stay open.

Vidant Health officials, when it initially announced its plan to close the hospital, said the N.C. legislature’s decision to not expand Medicaid meant the hospital wouldn’t be able to afford to stay open with a large segment of uninsured residents.

The Carolina Mercury posted this article today about O’Neal’s march, and included a letter from the mayor about the reasons behind the march.

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nci-vol-2174-300The White House Council of Economic Advisers released a report today detailing the health and economic consequences of refusing to accept federal Medicaid money to expand insurance coverage in North Carolina.

If the state accepted federal funds we could provide insurance coverage to 377,000 more people. This influx of federal money would also create jobs and boost our economy. And reducing our uninsured rate would have salutary impacts on the lives of those able to obtain affordable health care.

For example: 27,000 women would gain access to to recommended health screenings; 90,000 people would gain access to a medical home; 50,000 more people would report that they are in good health. The individual financial impacts are no less dramatic. Closing the coverage gap here would mean 17,000 fewer families facing catastrophic medical bills and 53,600 fewer people borrowing money to finance their health needs.

Some claim that North Carolina can’t afford to extend health coverage to more people. When you look at the numbers it’s clear that we can’t afford not to expand coverage. In 2014 the state is giving up $2.7 billion in federal funds. In 2015 that increases to $3.2 billion. In 2016 it’s $3.6 billion. In 2014 we could create 8,700 jobs. In 2015 we could create 19,400 jobs. If a private company or a new military base opened in North Carolina that created 19,000 jobs, politicians would be elbowing each other to get to the ribbon cutting.

The Council of Economic Advisers calls the decision to refuse new Medicaid funds a “missed opportunity.” That’s an understatement; it’s more like a terrible shame.