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Medicaid expansion would save lives

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It was springtime two years ago and I was out to dig up what remained of a palm tree that had not survived the winter. After only five strikes with my ax, I was gasping for breath and on my knees. Something was not right.

Following a battery of tests, I was diagnosed as having multiple blood clots in both lungs. That got my attention. Thankfully, with the expert care of my physicians, I overcame this issue and was restored back to health.

The next summer, in August, I went to the emergency room in Smithfield for what I knew was a recurrence of kidney stones. Later that day I was transferred to the hospital in Clayton where my urologist was to implant a stent.

During this process, I went into septic shock, a condition that, in some cases, ends in the patient’s death. I was most fortunate. The excellent team of health care professionals began immediately working on me, finally applying Narcan to revive me. My spouse, waiting outside the room, heard the team, in unison, applaud and say, “Welcome back, Mr. Walsh!”

I am alive today due to the superb health care afforded me here in Johnston County. I have Medicare and a supplementary policy and could afford such care.

Unfortunately, according to my research on the issue of Medicaid, had I been poor, living in a rural area of North Carolina where smaller hospitals and clinics have been closed due to the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid, I would most likely be one of an estimated 1,400 per year who die as a lack of medical care.

Beyond the moral cost of human life and suffering, there are other consequences to North Carolina’s blind refusal to expand Medicaid and bring health care to an estimated 500,000 North Carolinians.

An analysis by the Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University indicates that not expanding Medicaid, “…is already hindering job creation and economic growth because North Carolina is not capturing billions in federal matching dollars that would otherwise flow into the state economy to make expansions more affordable.”

Most all independent studies indicate Medicaid expansion will help more people gain access to affordable health care and it can serve as an engine for economic development.

According to the Cone Health Foundation and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, “Medicaid funding received by hospitals, clinics or drug stores is used to pay workers’ salaries and to buy other goods and services. The economic benefits multiply as these funds are, in turn, used to pay for mortgages or rent, buy food and pay state and county taxes.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that, “rural hospitals located in states that increased Medicaid eligibility and enrollment experienced fewer closures.” This report confirms work published in the journal Health Affairs, which found that “Medicaid expansion was associated with improved hospital financial performance and substantially lower likelihood of closure, especially in rural markets.”

Rural hospital administrators will tell you that the higher the percentage of uninsured people served in a rural hospital, the harder it is for that hospital to stay in business. I might add — thus the higher the cost to those who do have insurance!

It’s tragic that we have decided to play political games with the issue of health care, which I view as a moral imperative. We have no issues as a society with supporting our state, county and city police forces to protect us, rich and poor alike. We do not debate the right or wrong of our fire departments and their brave men and women coming to the rescue of the rich or the poor.

We all, rich or poor, drive our vehicles on the same streets, roads and highways.

We join together, for the common good of all, rich and poor, with our taxes to make for a better life for all. May I dare call this what it is in reality? It is a blend of socialism and capitalism that makes for a more perfect union.

Medicaid will extend a hand to “the least of these” of our communities. Let’s stop playing foolish political games with our fellow citizens’ health and lives.

Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.

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