On healthcare, NC has accepted what SC lawmakers continue to reject

December 6, 2023

As a long-time physician and public health advocate in Rock Hill, S.C., I am looking to our northern neighbors with envy. On Dec. 1, North Carolina closed the coverage gap and expanded Medicaid so that nearly 600,000 more people can now access affordable, quality healthcare.

South Carolina should take a cue from the Tar Heel state and follow in line as soon as possible.

As a South Carolina doctor who treated patients and worked in small hospital emergency rooms for over 35 years, I have witnessed the terrible impacts felt by our state’s failure to close the coverage gap. Many of the people I’ve treated fell into the gap because they earned too little to afford insurance and too much to qualify for Medicaid.

In fact, less than half of South Carolina employers offer health insurance to employees. These are hard-working people like church pastors, truck drivers, childcare workers, restaurant cooks and mental health therapists, who all want to support themselves and their families.

When I think back to my time working in the Chesterfield General Hospital emergency department, I think of the family who came in the middle of the night to have their 1-year-old treated for a painful ear infection and high fever. They delayed care for the child due to not having insurance. This caused a danger to the child and a financial burden to the hospital for having to cover the expensive overnight bill.

I also think of the construction worker who couldn’t afford preventive care. He came in with a stroke-in-progress because his blood pressure was so high. A simple physical could’ve caught his high blood pressure and treated him accordingly, without him ever having a stroke. Instead, he left the hospital disabled and unable to work anymore, due to never having access to care.

The resistance to closing the coverage gap in South Carolina is costing us all. Patients will have worse outcomes that still require care. Not to mention, our federal tax dollars currently fund Medicaid in other states without any of it benefiting our deserving people in the Palmetto State.

With North Carolina set to expand Medicaid, they will see hundreds of thousands of people gain access to crucial screenings that could catch cancer or diabetes early, cover ongoing treatments and save lives. It also means rural North Carolina hospitals have a better chance of staying open, now that patients have more coverage.

It means North Carolina stands to gain tens of thousands of jobs. And it means hundreds of thousands of people, many of them veterans, now have access to crucial mental health care. These are all benefits North Carolina has accepted that South Carolina lawmakers continue to reject. That’s why I am volunteering with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and other health partners to advocate to close the coverage gap in our state.

Dr. David Keely is a retired family medicine physician who has practiced in York, Chester, Lancaster and Chesterfield Counties. He also previously served as director of the SCDHEC’s Catawba Public Health District and continues as a part-time public health consultant.

This piece originally published as an op-ed in The State, The Island Packet and The Sun newspapers in South Carolina.