Health care for working North Carolinians now

Published July 15, 2021

By Sandra Burke

As a cardiovascular research scientist for more than 41 years, I am absolutely committed to the health and well-being of all Americans. One of many ways we in North Carolina can contribute to this goal is to follow the footsteps of the 38 other states that have moved to close their coverage gaps by expanding Medicaid benefits. 

Many working adults do not earn enough to afford private insurance, but make too much to qualify for Medicaid. Thus, they fall into a coverage gap that needs to be closed by legislative action as soon as possible.  In this way, all our citizens will be able to access the healthcare they need.  

The stakes are high -- and might very well impact you or your family. More than 600,000 North Carolinians lack access to affordable health insurance. These include small business owners, child care providers, service workers, veterans, farmers, fishermen, volunteer firefighters and so many other truly hard working citizens. 

Many of us never think twice about the cost of healthcare, because insurance covers much of the costs:  we go to the doctor, receive the bill, pay it when the notice arrives in our mailboxes and go on with our day.  But what about those unable to afford adequate healthcare? We owe it to these neighbors to support reasonable, well thought-out steps so that they can make lifesaving visits to a healthcare provider without fear of being unable to pay.

Expanding Medicaid is, indeed, reasonable and thought-out. And the timing is urgent. In North Carolina, heart disease and stroke remain among the top causes of death every year. For someone with heart disease, lack of insurance often means poorer blood pressure control and consequently, higher mortality rates. 

And for stroke victims, those who are uninsured experience greater neurological impairments, longer hospital stays and a much higher risk of death than those who are insured. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the issue is particularly severe.  

A growing number of studies suggest many COVID-19 survivors experience some type of heart damage, even if they didn't have underlying heart disease and weren't sick enough to be hospitalized.  Nearly one-fourth of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have been diagnosed with cardiovascular complications, which have been shown to contribute to roughly 40% of all COVID-19-related deaths.  These patients must be adequately insured so that they can once again enter the workforce, care for their families and contribute to the growth and well-being of our communities.

My dear stepfather died some years ago from a severe cardiovascular condition, and I, like so many of us, have other relatives who have suffered from cardiovascular diseases.  Ensuring that all residents of this state can afford and receive adequate healthcare is personal to me. I cannot stress how strongly I and many others feel about the need for our legislators to understand and care enough to act now to close the coverage gap and protect the health of all North Carolinians.  Contact your state legislators and let them know that we want and need their support on this issue….NOW!

Sandra E. Burke is the author of more than 75 publications and abstracts in scientific journals. She and her colleagues have secured 18 patents. She currently serves on the American Heart Association Southeast Board of Directors. She and her husband live in Wesley Chapel, NC.