My daughter, Rose, was born with a congenital heart defect, what insurance companies before 2014 would have called a “pre-existing condition.” Fortunately, she had insurance as a child, but more than once I thought, “What if she didn’t?” At its best, that euphemism “pre-existing condition” disguised barbaric treatment for the most vulnerable. The Affordable Care Act ended this choice for insurance companies. My daughter just graduated from college and has good affordable health insurance through healthcare.gov.
Before she even entered adolescence, I had seen my daughter have two open heart surgeries. The surgeon broke her breast bone, the surgical team stopped her heart and put her on a heart-lung machine. Believe me, I don’t want her to undergo any more surgeries, but I do want my daughter to get the health care she needs to live her life. The Affordable Care Act gives her and many others that freedom.
$3.3 billion The amount of federal funding N.C. missed out on in 2015
But 357,000 North Carolinians are still without care because the legislature decided not to accept Medicaid expansion. It has been five years and still these mostly working poor who have health problems wait for coverage, do without, use the emergency room, get worse, die.
Who are these people who are not able to get insurance? According to a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation report, they are mostly white workers between the age of 35 and 54. The majority are in good health, but 18 percent are in fair or poor health. Most of these uninsured live in the South. Most are childless male adults.
The uninsured are not the only ones affected by not expanding Medicaid. North Carolina’s economy is affected. According to a report by the Center For Health Policy Research at George Washington University, North Carolina lost $2.7 billion in federal funding in 2014 and is losing $3.3 billion in 2015, compared to the amounts it would have earned had it expanded Medicaid in 2014. This means more than 23,000 fewer jobs were created statewide in 2014 and 29,000 fewer in 2015. The state’s total economy is about $1.7 billion smaller in 2014 than if Medicaid had expanded.
The study also shows what we all know: If you address a health concern early outcomes are usually better and costs are lower. Research has found that death rates have fallen in states that expanded Medicaid. The reason? When low-income people are uninsured, they avoid getting necessary medical care or medications because of the costs. Expanding insurance coverage means the cost factor is removed.
Imagine a life complicated by fewer resources, no insurance and faced with a major health problem. It’s a cruel fate that deserves the investment of and resolution by the people of North Carolina. We take care of each other because it is the right thing to do and we know “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Plus it makes sense for our pocketbooks.
Kathy Kyle lives in Hendersonville. She and her daughter recently met with President Obama in Nashville, Tenn., about the Affordable Care Act.