Letters to the Editor

Carmen Hooker-Odom: Medicaid more than just a health plan

Ned Barnett’s Nov. 2 column “ Dr. Wos’ miracle Medicaid cure” was right on target. What should be noted is that Medicaid is more than just a health insurance plan. Yes, it does provide health coverage primarily by contracting with private and not-for-profit providers to take care of eligible children, sick people who are poor, and disabled and elderly people who qualify. But it does more than that.

Medicaid covers transportation for the isolated and habitation for people suffering mental health challenges. It provides dental and vision care for children and eligible adults. It supports our elderly family members of modest means to receive needed services in the home and, among the sickest of the sick, in skilled nursing homes.

Commercial health insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield, United HealthCare or Aetna do not do all the things that Medicaid does. And if you investigate commercial health insurance companies, you will find mistakes, business blunders and areas where improvement certainly can take place. So let’s just stipulate that providing health care coverage is an important but complex endeavor whether you are in the private sector or the public sector.

I say this to DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos: Trust me, during your tenure there will be more episodes of complications with Medicaid. I have been there, and mistakes will occur. Also trust me that subsequent administrations, when they find problems, will blame your administration for them. That is the time-honored tradition. So let’s finally get over all of this blaming of others. I congratulate you for any and all honest changes made to make Medicaid better.

But now, please, let’s talk about why Medicaid expansion is good for the people of North Carolina.There are the actual health care services that the newly covered individuals will receive, over 47,000 who are veterans and many more who are workers in low-wage but critical jobs. Access to affordable health care coverage will improve the quality of their lives, their productivity in the workplace and the overall health status of their communities.

Data also show the advantages to our economy and to businesses in North Carolina: $15 billion in increased revenue to the state, 25,000 new jobs generated by 2016, reduction of cost shifting to existing premiums and other benefits that will help level the playing field for North Carolina businesses that compete in the global economy. That is why smart and thoughtful business leaders support Medicaid expansion. That is why in recent polls, approximately 60 percent of North Carolina residents support Medicaid expansion.

It is time for the governor and state legislative leaders to be smart, too. Medicaid expansion should be at the heart of the governor’s upcoming State of the State address and the first item of business in the 2015 legislative session.

Carmen Hooker Odom

N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 2001-2007, Manteo

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the column.