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IMG_0831Last year Mayor Adam O’Neal from the tiny, scenic town of Belhaven, NC, made national headlines as he walked nearly 300 miles from Beaufort County to Washington, DC, to protest the closing of his rural hospital and to urge states to accept Medicaid expansion.

On Monday, June 1, O’Neal left Belhaven to replicate last year’s feat. And this year he is taking along advocates from around the country. As marchers filed out of town yesterday to start the arduous journey they wore shirts advertising their home states. A team of advocates travelled from Texas, some came from West Virginia and Alabama, a rural hospital CEO from Kentucky joined the walk, as did a woman from Seattle, Washington.

The message of the marchers is clear: we must save rural health care.

A key part of that agenda includes expanding Medicaid, as an Episcopal priest from Belhaven reminded the audience during a prayer before the send off. Rev. William Barber from the NC NAACP noted that Jesus made health care a central part of his ministry.

You can follow the march at this website. You can also tweet with the hashtag #savethe283. That refers to a national estimate that 283 rural hospitals are at risk of closing this year.

You can also join the final rally as marchers reach Washington, DC, and gather at the Capitol on June 15 at 10am.

And, finally, you can ask legislators and the Governor in North Carolina to accept new federal Medicaid funds to expand insurance coverage to 500,000 more people in our state.

Commentary

In 2013 the North Carolina General Assembly rejected new federal funds to expand health insurance coverage in the state, but that hasn’t stopped local governments from urging the Governor and legislators to change course.

Counties such as Mecklenburg and Durham have passed Medicaid expansion resolutions as have cities like Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Even Sen. Phil Berger’s hometown of Eden officially went on record endorsing expansion. The Rockingham County towns of Reidsville and Madison have since joined Eden.

This month three more counties — Nash, Edgecombe, and Chatham — joined the chorus.

As retired cardiologist Jim Foster pointed out to the Chatham Commissioners there are tremendous economic benefits to accepting more federal Medicaid dollars. From news coverage of the resolution:

“Anytime money flows into the economy, it ripples through and multiplies,” Foster said.

He pointed to a George Washington University study that broke down the costs and revenues from expanding Medicaid.

The study broke figures down for the state and for its 100 counties.

In Chatham, for example, the study stated that not expanding Medicaid cost 136 jobs and $6 million in gross product.e study Dr. Foster mentions can be found here.

Approval of the Nash County resolution was unanimous and Commissioners added a call for simultaneous reforms to Medicaid. This makes sense. In fact, nearly every expansion state is also reforming the program at the same time.

There is no reason North Carolina’s leaders can’t learn to walk and chew gum like most other states in the country.

Commentary

News item from the Charlotte Observer:

“The Fort Mill, S.C., Republican who went public Tuesday with his plea for help paying for sight-saving surgery had raised almost $12,000 by Wednesday evening – most of it from self-described liberals and Affordable Care Act supporters saying they hope he’s learned a lesson.

That’s enough to ensure he can get the treatment he needs, said Dr. Andrew Antoszyk, an eye surgeon with Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Associates. After reading Luis Lang’s story in the Observer on Wednesday, Antoszyk said he’d work with Lang and with Novant Health to give him the care at reduced cost.

Lang, a self-employed handyman, declined to get health insurance until he needed expensive surgery for diabetes-related eye problems. His story went viral, spurring blogs and comments, national media commentary, thousands of social media shares and vigorous discussions across the country.

His GoFundMe.com page has been shared on social media more than 1,700 times since Tuesday morning, with more than 600 people making small donations, often with political commentary.

‘No one should be without medical (care) even if they have not made their own best choices in life,’ wrote Steve Kadel, who gave $10. ‘The party of personal responsibility (has) left you hanging on your own consequences. Progressives like me think that’s just cruel. Be well.’”

Whether Lang or other Affordable Care Act naysayers will learn a lesson is unclear at this point — Lang himself, offers rather muddled comments on the subject later in the Observer article — but a few things are clear from all this:

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Commentary

In case you missed it, be sure to check out Ned Barnett’s column from Sunday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he explains why the myth of runaway Medicaid spending is just that — a myth.

“Refusing to expand Medicaid may look reflexively anti-Obama and hardhearted, but Republicans say it’s a matter of fiscal responsibility. They say that Medicaid’s annual costs are prone to unpredictable surges and that its overall rate of increase means it will soon crowd out the state’s ability to meet its other obligations.

But the Medicaid monster is a myth. A new analysis by the nonprofit Medicaid management organization Community Care of North Carolina found the health care program to be a steady expense. It’s expensive, yes, but it does a lot to improve the health of a vulnerable population and may well head off more expensive medical costs that would inflate premiums for everyone.

John Alexander, Community Care’s vice president for Medicaid financial performance and analysis, sat in a conference room last week and presented the reality behind the illusion. ‘We found that spending on Medicaid isn’t broken, it isn’t unpredictable, it isn’t out of control,’ he said.

Indeed, he said, year-over-year spending on Medicaid is consistent, its administrative costs are relatively low and the cost per patient is going down, falling 9 percent in the last four years.”

The essay goes on to explain how supposed spikes in Medicaid spending in recent years are really just a result of the end of federal stimulus spending in response to the Great Recession:

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Commentary

The wonks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities are out with a new and powerful report today on the increasingly-evident benefits of Medicaid expansion. Here’s the lead:

“In the short time since states have been able to expand Medicaid to low-income adults under health reform, a clear divide has emerged between states that have expanded Medicaid and those that have not. Since the major coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) took effect in 2014, insurance coverage rates have improved across the country, but the gains are far greater in the states that have expanded Medicaid. As a result, hospitals in expansion states are treating fewer uninsured patients, and the amount of uncompensated care they are providing is declining steeply. Moreover, contrary to critics’ claims that Medicaid expansion is financially unsustainable for states, there is increasing evidence that expansion has saved states money, and these savings are expected to grow over time.

The Medicaid expansion has had an especially dramatic impact in Arkansas and Kentucky, which both had high uninsurance rates and limited Medicaid eligibility for non-elderly adults before health reform. Both states’ uninsurance rates have fallen by half in just over a year, and the expansion is expected to save each state more than $100 million by the time their current state fiscal years end on June 30.

Meanwhile, the states that have not expanded Medicaid are falling further behind. In the non-expansion states, large numbers of low-income people remain uninsured and without access to affordable health coverage. These individuals are caught in a ‘coverage gap’ because their incomes are too high for Medicaid but too low for subsidies to purchase coverage in the marketplace. Hospitals in these states continue to provide large amounts of uncompensated care, and the states are missing the opportunity to leverage billions of dollars in new federal funding through the Medicaid expansion.”

Click here to see the numbers and read more details about how North Carolina continues to fall farther behind as the result of its stubborn and self-destructive refusal to expand the program.