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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.

 

…is highlighted in this fine editorial in the Charlotte Observer entitled: “Expand Medicaid – It has value in NC.” To quote:

“N.C. lawmakers don’t seem inclined to reconsider their unwise decision not to expand Medicaid. But that doesn’t mean we should stop shouting loudly why they should. A new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report last week underscores the value for the Tar Heel state.

The report looked at the Affordable Care Act’s impact in 14 large U.S. cities. Charlotte was among the seven cities in states where lawmakers opted not to expand eligibility for Medicaid. Even so, the number of uninsured Charlotte residents is expected to drop by 36 percent, or 63,000, by 2016 because of ACA. That was the highest drop among cities with no Medicaid expansion. Among all states, North Carolina has the fifth-highest ACA federal online sign-up.

The report points out that had North Carolina expanded the state’s Medicaid program for low-income and disabled residents, the decrease in uninsured in Charlotte would be even greater – an estimated 57 percent. That would be an additional 36,000, bringing the number of Charlotte residents gaining insurance to 99,000 by 2016. Read More

A new report from the experts at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center paints a sobering picture of what the new “recovered” North Carolina economy really means for average people:

“North Carolina’s recovery from the Great Recession has been marked by slow job growth and persistent challenges for working families to make ends meet. The minimal job growth has been concentrated in low-wage industries, a new report finds, which will only make North Carolina’s economic recovery that much more difficult. Read More

Adam O'Neal

Mayor Adam O’Neal – photo credit Twitter.com

“You can’t close hospitals and let people die to prove a point.” So spoke the conservative Republican mayor of Belhaven, North Carolina, Adam O’Neal, this morning at a press conference at the state Legislative Building in Raleigh.

O’Neal’s appearance (and his linking of hands with Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP) was the highlight of a powerful event at which advocates called on Gov. McCrory and legislative leaders to reverse course and admit that their ideologically-driven decision to refuse to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the terms of the Affordable Care Act is threatening the physical health of hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians and the financial health of dozens of hospitals — especially ones located in poorer, rural communities like Mayor O’Neal’s.

O’Neal’s speech was an especially moving and courageous act by a man who claimed to disagree with Rev. Barber on most issues and who obviously placed any political ambitions he might harbor at risk by so publicly breaking with the leaders of his own party. But it was also obviously heartfelt and genuine — a fact that made it all the more powerful. Read More