Recently on a flight from Portland, Ore., to Ontario, Calif., I had a weird experience. I was walking down the aisle of the plane, heading back toward the restroom, when my brain received a message that told me, “You’re not going to reach the end of this aisle.” I had never had such an experience before.

Heeding the warning, I sat down in the aisle and immediately passed out. When I came to, I was surrounded by passengers and crew, who quickly got some juice into me. A doctor, who happened to be on board, had a stethoscope, reading my vital signs, and had me laid out across three empty seats. Upon landing I was rushed to a local hospital and tested for several hours before being released for what was diagnosed as “light-headedness.”

When I returned to Pinehurst 10 days later, my physician had me wear a heart monitor, and in time, after a battery of tests, I found myself in FirstHealth’s Moore Regional Hospital getting three stents placed in two of my heart arteries, which had been seriously blocked.

Although I had served as a member of the board of governors of the 17th largest public hospital in the United States almost 40 years ago, I was shocked to realize just how advanced modern medicine has become since then. My recent experience at our local hospital was an eye-opener. What we have in the Sandhills is quite remarkable. Yet many like myself take it for granted.

FirstHealth operates four hospitals in Moore, Richmond, Hoke and Montgomery counties. They are in Pinehurst, Troy, Raeford and Rockingham. As a not-for-profit health care system, FirstHealth offers financial assistance to eligible patients to ensure health care services are accessible and affordable to all. Financial assistance eligibility includes free and discounted care options, with the amount of assistance based on a percentage of the most recent federal poverty guidelines published by the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2017, FirstHealth provided more than $10.6 million in charity care for patients unable to pay for services.

FirstHealth also offers a Medication Assistance Program, which helps patients obtain medications from pharmaceutical companies for chronic diseases. By assisting with these medications, readmission rates for some patients may decrease.

Over the past year the total number of surgical cases includes 5,947 inpatient procedures (including 288 open heart surgeries) and 5,642 outpatient procedures, 3,076 diagnostic catheter procedures, 1,410 interventional and 1,704 angioplasty and outpatient pacemakers. All heart operations within the FirstHealth system take place at the Reid Heart Center in Pinehurst.

Health care in the United States has become a highly charged matter of continuing political controversy. Millions of people gained coverage under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. However, recent trends in insurance coverage show that coverage gains may be starting to erode.

In 2017, 27.4 million people still lacked health coverage, up slightly from 2016. If additional states opt to expand Medicaid as allowed under the ACA, there may be additional coverage gains as more and more low-income families gain access to affordable coverage. Going without coverage can have serious health consequences, including death for the uninsured because they receive less preventive care, and delayed care often results in serious illness or other health problems. Being uninsured also can have serious financial consequence.

The Trump administration has tried repeatedly to terminate the Affordable Care Act and has done much to discourage citizens to enroll in it. It offers no new thinking about expanding health insurance coverage. It even threatens to privatize the Veterans Administration’s hospital system.

The House of Representatives may now include more members who favor universal health care for all Americans than ever before. For America to move in that direction, it will first have to get its financial house in order. With rising deficits thanks to huge tax cuts to the wealthiest, along with sharp cuts in corporate tax contributions to the treasury, universal health insurance is going to be a very long way off.

Meanwhile, I thank my lucky stars for all that FirstHealth does for those of us living in the Sandhills of North Carolina.

(1) comment

Kent Misegades

Health care is a business, not a right. Insurance is a means to share costs with other insured, but it should never be forced on a person. If I choose to live uninsured to save money, that should be my choice. I accept the consequences. One does not die simply for lack of insurance. All medical businesses accept cash payments, generally give discounts for cash and will set up payment plans. Insurance costs businesses and taxpayers trillions of dollars that could be used instead to grow businesses and pay higher salaries - it sure isn’t free even if it seems like a free benefit of employment. Forcing an insurance company to accept someone with a pre-existing condition is a recipe for fiscal collapse of the insurer - identical to forcing a home insurance company to pay for a new customer’s house that burned down prior to paying a premium. The more government gets involved in the medical industry the poorer the service will become and the more expensive it will be. Get sick in Canada or the UK to experience it yourself.

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