Why Does Our Health Still Depend on Politics?


The recently released Status of Women in North Carolina: Health & Wellness Report (the second in a series of four publications) gave us good and bad news. Some good news – North Carolina’s mortality rates for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and breast cancer, among other diseases, have decreased since the initial 2013 report. This is credited to the work of health care providers, nonprofits and quasi-governmental agencies working diligently to inform and address health risks and wellness.

A statement from the North Carolina Governor, Roy Cooper’s office noted:

“While poor health can negatively affect employment opportunities, educational attainment, and financial security, good health allows women to meet their economic and educational goals and flourish in the other areas of their lives. Multiple factors, including genetics, behavior, access to health care—including reproductive health care—access to healthy food, and quality and safe housing contribute to the health and wellness of women.”

But some serious issues remain problems in our state and this year’s report makes the case for Medicaid expansion. Key health risks for women in the state of North Carolina include:

  • Ranking 11th highest in infant mortality
  • Ranking 9th highest in stroke mortality among women
  • Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, North Carolina ranks in the middle or bottom on indicators of health and wellness.

The report also highlights wide disparity rates by race, ethnicity and rural locations. The prospect of Medicaid expansion has become a politically charged conversation for lawmakers over the past six years, but the possibility of its expansion has personal importance for many North Carolina families, especially those with limited access to health care and insurance.

Expanding Medicaid would expand access to affordable health coverage while bringing an estimated $4 billion into North Carolina’s economy, which would create nearly ten thousand jobs and help rural hospitals remain open. Opponents point to hidden costs as a reason to refuse expansion.  “Ballooning healthcare costs would put North Carolina’s education and business climate at risk,” said Longleaf Politics in their internet article, The quick case against Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. “Medicaid already takes up a huge chunk of North Carolina’s budget, at about $4 billion and growing. That’s roughly 16% of the state budget, making it our second largest cost after education. It’s also a variable cost that’s hard to predict from year to year.”

Interestingly Will Doran’s story, “NC Gov. Roy Cooper on Medicaid expansion in North Carolina: ‘You’re already paying for it.’” PolitiFact North Carolina, January 2017, makes the argument that North Carolina’s people and businesses are already paying millions for the expansion created by the Affordable Care Act even though we’re getting nothing from it.

While lawmakers continue to fight over versions of bills that would allow North Carolina to join 37 other states in adopting Medicaid expansion, women are suffering. We currently have 14% percent of women in North Carolina reporting as uninsured, ranking the state ninth in the nation for women’s lack of access to health insurance. Across the state, health care and business leaders have called on North Carolina’s General Assembly to take action this year to close the coverage gap.

Hopefully public support and momentum along with data and research from the Status of Women in North Carolina Health & Wellness Report will help remove politics from the health care and health insurance debate. I don’t know a single woman who turns to politicians for advice on cancer treatments, prenatal care, or reproductive rights yet it seems like some politicians are consistently finding ways to insert themselves between us and healthcare providers.

Antionette Kerr is a media correspondent, author and publisher.

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