If you haven’t already, be sure to catch the extraordinary essay that veteran Rockingham County physician Steve Luking penned for the Greensboro News & Record over the weekend. In “As lawmakers wait; people are dying,” Luking makes plain in straightforward human terms what statistics have shown repeatedly over the last decade as Republican legislators have refused to follow the lead of most other states by expanding Medicaid to cover uninsured lower income North Carolinians: the decision is quite literally killing people.
And, not surprisingly (at least to anyone with a heart and a brain) the pandemic has made things much worse — especially in rural areas like the ones he served for three decades. After describing how he and his brother/medical partner set up open-air tents in 2020 to deal with the influx of COVID-19 patients, Luking writes this:
If legislators had stood at my side as I cared for the uninsured sick, many who were essential workers, I think they would reconsider their votes against Medicaid expansion. More than one in eight essential workers are uninsured in our state. Expansion would have provided basic coverage for many of them.
For instance, a single mom with two children, Dianne (patients’ names have been changed to protect their privacy) worked in a local grocery store. She had lost her Medicaid coverage when she was hired. She did not qualify for insurance, and so she was stuck, essentially uninsurable.
I saw Dianne one day in my tent, early in the pandemic. She had a fever and a bad cough, and felt miserable and scared. Several co-workers had come down with COVID.
The swab was positive. She told me she couldn’t pay for it so I gave her a loaner oxygen monitor, and watched her leave to pick up her kids at school.
Very early in the pandemic, before we had office-based testing, I also saw a feverish, uninsured farmhand. He was wheezing and appeared potentially unstable. When I advised him to go to the ER, he shook his head no.
“No insurance, can’t afford it,” he said. He drove away, undiagnosed.
Another uninsured patient was an aide for an elderly client who was hospitalized with COVID-19. She, too, developed a fever and cough and rapid breathing, but refused to go to the ER because she already had a prior thousand-dollar bill.
What kind of society demands that essential workers keep working in a dangerous pandemic, while squarely rejecting their access to insurance?
Luking then goes on to take comfortable lawmakers, like Greensboro’s Rep. Jon Hardister, to task for their offensive statements about not expanding Medicaid to “able-bodied” people — a term that probably holds superficial appeal with right-wing focus groups, but makes no sense at all in the real world. Here’s Luking: Read more