Public Health and Private Healthcare, Revisited

Public Health and Private Healthcare, Revisited

By: Robert Scott

All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views  and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser. 

Just three months ago, The Edgefield Advertiserincluded a column I had written with the title, Public Health and Private Healthcare. That column discussed the threat of a pandemic “that has not arrived here, at least not yet.” It’s here now, and its ramifications are filling the news. There was an article the other day that pointed out that if individual states were classified as nations, then South Carolina would be the country with the fourth highest rate of infection, per capita, in the world. This week’s national news highlighted a hospital in Lexington whose capacity for accepting COVID-19 patients was near the breaking point, and that many of the newest patients were not elderly but relatively young. And among those who died from COVID-19 this week was a four-year-old.

As a military retiree, I have very good health insurance – but that is not the case for many of those who live here, in Edgefield County. One of the keys to defeating this pandemic – in addition to all of us wearing a mask or other face covering whenever in public (please do that!) – is to make sure that those who think they might have been infected, can get tested. But there is a financial cost to being tested; those tests are not free. If you have health insurance, that will pay for your being tested. And the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services (SCDHHS) has just announced that those without health insurance can now apply to have the cost of COVID-19 testing covered through the state’s Medicaid program, regardless of their income level. So if you need a test, you can get tested (and wait in those too-long lines) without having a cost to yourself.

But what about those who need to be admitted to that Lexington hospital or elsewhere, who will pay for their treatment? That is where we, as a state, have fallen down on the job. Those of us with health insurance need not worry about the cost: if you need hospitalization, your insurance will cover that. Those who are at the bottom of the economic ladder and who are on Medicaid already, they are covered as well. But how about the “working poor” – those who earn enough not to qualify for Medicaid, but who don’t have health insurance? The people of Oklahoma just expanded Medicaid in their state through a Constitutional Amendment, when their legislature, like ours, refused to do so year after year. That leaves South Carolina one of just 13 states who still do not cover health insurance for the almost-poor, those who might be next to you at the BI-LO check-out line, who feel sick but who cannot afford to see a doctor.

Public Health and Private Healthcare require a balancing act to work at all, much less to work well. Ours in South Carolina is not working well, and the COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest indication of how poorly it is working. It is too late for this round, but let us all hope that our state legislature and our governor fix this system and fix it soon, before we are faced with the next threat to our health, our families’ health, and our neighbors’ health. Let us join the other 37states who have expanded Medicaid coverage for all residents who need it.