Few things are more wrong than denying people access to decent health care because of their economic status. But that's what happens all over North Carolina every day. A report released this week by the Common Sense Foundation shows that more than 1.4 million North Carolinians have no access to health insurance. The gap between expensive private coverage and Medicaid is growing as costs skyrocket.
The report notes that 16.8% of North Carolina residents were without health coverage in 2002, which is higher than the national average. More than a quarter-million children lacked access to health care. The gap gets much worse for minorities: more than half of the N.C. Latino population did not have health insurance in 2002, far higher than national figures, and the uninsurance rate among African-Americans is 50% higher than the rate among whites.
The main problem, according to the findings of the report, is cost. Most uninsured North Carolinians make too much to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford private coverage. A family (with young children) earning $25,000 annually doesn't qualify for Medicaid, leaving few options if health-care benefits are not provided by the family's employers. Even those who enjoy benefits are increasingly paying more for less. In North Carolina a family of four can expect to pay 31.7% of its health-care premium (more than $2,000 annually), the second-highest employee contribution percentage in the nation.
The consequences are stark, according to the study. The uninsured tend to die earlier, and the costs of their treatment are passed on to the state. And of course the costs of treating the uninsured are greatly multiplied by their lack of access to decent preventive care.
The report calls for a move to universal health coverage, finding that a single-payer system would realize $7.5 billion of savings in administrative costs.
Making a huge profit off of someone else's illness is bad enough. But denying North Carolinians access to decent medical care based on their income is morally unacceptable and financially short-sighted. There is a better way. (www.common-sense.org)
This issue caps nine weeks of stories with the theme of Black Culture 2004. They started the week of the Rev. Martin Luther King's birthday with a look at the ways slavery and racism tinged the Constitution and American law from the very beginning. They continued with the untold African American history of Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, ways to find out more about black history around the Triangle, a discussion of ways people in the area were marking Black History Month, an original piece of art celebrating "Yo mama's so...," and an in-depth interview with John Hope Franklin.
Put together, the stories capture a perspective that's not as well reflected in the more upbeat stories told in schools and the mainstream media--of the depth of racism and oppression we are all still working to overcome.
We've made it easy to look at all those stories online: Go to www.indyweek.com, and click on the Black Culture 2004 button.