Dr. Eleanor Greene: The Fatal Price of Waiting for Medical Care | Columnists

As Christmas approached, a sweet but doomed 48-year-old mother of two came to my office in 2018 seeking medical attention. Over the past year, she said, she had been bleeding. But she had no insurance and her budget was tight. She therefore waited to have health insurance to consult a doctor.

My heart broke when I found out the cancer had already eaten away half of her cervix. In private, I mourned her. Yes, now that she had insurance, she would receive care.

But it was too late; all these treatments could not save his life. More Christmas. No more cuddling with his two sons.

If her cancer had been diagnosed and treated earlier or before it became invasive, the cost would have been less than $1,000 and she would likely be alive today. But his lack of health insurance kept him waiting. Instead, his late-stage care was much more expensive, usually running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And it failed to save his life.

I still mourn for her – and for the thousands of other mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who suffer from North Carolina’s deadly health care coverage deficit.

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Now there is a glimmer of hope. The North Carolina Senate voted overwhelmingly to close the gap by expanding Medicaid.

Then we’ll see if the life-or-death stakes involved cause NC House to act.

The coverage gap refers to people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for a subsidy in the health insurance market.

Like my late cervical cancer patient, many North Carolina residents work day in and day out, but don’t receive health insurance from their employers.

And hundreds of thousands of workers still fall below the federal poverty level, which is about $26,000 for a family of four, even if they work full time.

Before the pandemic, about 400,000 North Carolina residents did not have access to affordable health insurance. Now the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the number of North Carolinians who would benefit from closing the gap has increased by more than 200,000.

So far, 38 states have decided to fill their gaps by expanding Medicaid, with the federal government paying 90% of the cost. It would not only be good business for North Carolina, but it would save lives.

Medicaid funding is a key tool in screening for common illnesses like cancer and fighting for recovery once an illness is detected.

The objective is above all to ensure that all those who need it will benefit from it. A recent study showed that cancer patients in “resistant” states like ours had lower survival rates, including a 31% increased risk of death in breast cancer patients.

The outlook improves the sooner one can be screened, diagnosed and treated. Yet for too many people in our state, including people with cancer, access to timely, high-quality health care is out of reach due to financial challenges.

Unfortunately, the story of the doomed mother who arrived too late in my office is not unique in my experience.

I can share more stories of how our state’s coverage deficit has swallowed up hard workers and destroyed lives.

Recently, I joined faith leaders and policymakers at a prayer breakfast just steps from the North Carolina General Assembly to urge lawmakers to finally address this malignity. On behalf of so many patients, families, and physicians, I again urge the NC House to join the NC Senate and expand Medicaid.

Dr. Eleanor Greene earned a BS in Medical Technology from the former Bowman Gray School of Medicine (now Wake Forest University School of Medicine) in Winston-Salem, and her MD and MS in Public Health in maternal and child health from UNC-Chapel Colline. She founded her own practice at Triad Women’s Health and Wellness Center, where she currently focuses on gynecology.

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