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I am blessed to serve as a family physician in a tight-knit, rural community where many of the people we care for are not just our patients but also our neighbors and friends.
Because I love this community, it really hurts me to see so many people struggle to stay healthy. Compared to urban areas, people in rural areas have higher rates of preventable hospitalizations, alcohol and drug use, teen births and overall mortality.
Often, that is because so many rural families cannot afford health insurance and, therefore, cannot get the medical care they need. I see firsthand how the lack of access to insurance affects people’s health. I often see people who have put off going to the doctor because they could not afford it. By the time they do see me or my colleagues, it is too late. The patient now has an inoperable cancer, he or she has irreversible complications from diabetes or he or she no longer can work due to weakness from a stroke. The list goes on and on.
In a small community like ours, one person’s poor health can affect all of us: A business owner cannot grow his small business. A single mother cannot work full-time. Another person cannot continue his/her education. Our entire community and economy suffers.
One of the biggest things we can do to help improve the health of our community is to give more people access to affordable health insurance by closing the coverage gap. In North Carolina’s 80 rural counties, nearly 15 percent of people are uninsured, well above the national average. If North Carolina closed its coverage gap, an estimated 500,000 people would gain access to affordable health insurance.
Closing the coverage gap also helps make the rural health care infrastructure stronger, meaning rural physicians and hospitals could stay open and continue to provide care for all of us. People would not have to drive so far just to see a doctor or go to the emergency department for a life-threatening problem. Closing the coverage gap also helps rural communities by creating jobs and increasing local business activity.
This is the right time to close the coverage gap, and rural communities like ours cannot afford to wait. Every day, five more North Carolinians die of an opioid overdose, and countless others go without needed medical care due to lack of insurance. We can get them insurance by developing a North Carolina solution to closing the coverage gap.
I am confident our lawmakers can work together and do the right thing for all the citizens of North Carolina. Please contact our locally elected lawmakers and ask them to take care of our community.
Nadine B. Skinner, M.D.
The writer is a physician practicing at Boice-Willis Family Medicine – Wilson.