OPEN LETTER: From our freshman Senator from Guilford County Michael Garrett
I’m a freshman Senator from Guilford County. During the recent break in the legislative session, I spent some time reading about our past political leaders, because I wanted to understand what drove North Carolina to become a beacon of progress in the South. As a native North Carolinian, I’m proud of this reputation, and as a Senator, I feel a responsibility to uphold it.
Our former leaders like Governors Melville Broughton and Kerr Scott had the acumen and courage to see and acknowledge our State’s challenges, and used the power of their office to solve them. Our state’s reputation was not formed by accident, but was built by thoughtful, bold and caring leaders, working with the legislature.
Rob Christensen writes in his book “The Rise and Fall of the Branchead Boys: North Carolina’s Scott Family and the Era of Progresive Politics” that during WWII, officials saw an alarming and unpleasant truth: NC had the highest rate of medical rejections from the Selective Service in the nation. 57% of all recruits were dismissed due to health problems like malnutrition and chronic infections. Governor Broughton did not turn a blind eye. He took action, and worked to increase the number of physicians in the state by creating a 4 year teaching hospital at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He implemented The Good Health Plan, which built hospitals in rural areas, and encouraged the development of group medical insurance plans so our citizens could pay for treatment. He successfully marshalled the power of his office, built coalitions within the legislature, to address and solve a pervasive problem.
Compare that to today.
Over 500,000 North Carolinians are denied access to healthcare. Most of them are working in low wage jobs with no benefits. There are many people who are going without treatment because they can’t afford it. If they lived in one of the 37 other states where leaders have expanded Medicaid they would have access to the care they need. Here at home, Republican leaders in our General Assembly either refuse to see the problem or don’t care. They are even blocking a solution that would cost our taxpayers nothing. In fact, we are subsidizing Medicaid expansion in other states while many of our families suffer. There are numerous other benefits to expanding Medicaid: premiums for private plans are expected to drop between 7 to 11%, an estimated 40,000 jobs will be created, and economic activity would increase by an estimate $4 billion, it’s just common sense.
Because of our State’s inaction to follow the 37 other states that expanded medicaid, rural hospitals are closing. Our neighbors are suffering, our people are dying needlessly, and families continue to be bankrupted by medical bills. Governors Melville Broughton and Kerr Scott are probably turning over in their graves. I wager that they would find kinship with Governor Cooper’s efforts to get healthcare to people who need it, and would be hard pressed to understand a legislature that fails to implement a solution handed to it on a silver platter.
The innovations made in the 20th century by our leaders and the progressive rural movement helped build the reputation of our state as a beacon of progress in the South. I pray it’s not destroyed in the 21st.
Sen Michael Garrett