Surgeon general makes Charlotte ‘house call’

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the nation’s new surgeon general, talked to Charlotte health and community leaders Wednesday about the challenges of treating mental illness, caring for youth with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and expanding health coverage.

The visit to Care Ring, a nonprofit clinic in uptown Charlotte, is part of a “house calls listening tour” for Murthy, a 37-year-old physician who was confirmed Dec. 15. This was his fourth stop.

“While the problems we face are immense, I have great faith that we can solve these problems if we come together as a community,” he said.

Murthy is a longtime proponent of the Affordable Care Act, often dubbed Obamacare. He said many of the two dozen health, government, faith and community leaders he met in Charlotte voiced concern about getting more people insured.

He said he was especially moved by the story of Kimberly Tonyan, a Cornelius woman who credits the Affordable Care Act with saving her life. Tonyan was profiled in the Observer in October. A single mother of twins, she got subsidized insurance last year. A trip to the doctor once she had coverage led to an early cancer diagnosis and treatment for Cowden syndrome, a rare genetic mutation that puts her at high risk for other cancers. She has since had several operations.

“When any of us thinks about the staggering cost of going through these life-saving interventions without insurance, it takes your breath away,” Murthy said.

Other observations from his visit:

On electronic cigarettes: “It’s an area where we desperately need more science.” While they may help smokers quit, young people are taking them up before the health effects are known.

On his push to fight obesity and prevent chronic disease: “These conditions are what are driving the greatest cost for our society. Not just costs in terms of money, but more importantly costs in terms of lives lost, in terms of disability.”

On Medicaid expansion: “My hope is that the leaders in North Carolina can come together to expand coverage options so people can get the care they deserve.”