06/06/07 — Doctor points to need for insurance

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Doctor points to need for insurance

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 6, 2007 1:46 PM

Universal health care is a topic most often discussed on the national and state stages, but at the Wayne County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Dr. Alma Jenkins made her pitch to bring that idea down to the local level.

She explained that her vision, though ambitious, is simple. She wants all of Wayne County's residents to have health insurance.

According to the 2004 numbers from the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, Wayne County has between 18,000 and 20,000 uninsured residents.

Many of those, said Dr. Jenkins, a locum tenens gastroenterologist in Goldsboro, are suffering from chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Others simply suffer from routine illnesses and accidents.

But for both groups, the only recourse often is Wayne Memorial Hospital's emergency department, or Wayne Action Teams for Community Health (WATCH).

"That means we have a number of citizens come into the hospital with stage four lung cancer and stage four colon cancer because they could not afford to go see a physician," she said. "And the hospital has to absorb those costs."

It also means, she added, that those people with insurance are seeing their premiums and doctor bills increase as the medical system becomes more and more crowded with the uninsured.

"This is a very big problem," Dr. Jenkins said. "We are required to have insurance for our automobiles, but unfortunately, we are not required to have insurance for our bodies. Many of these individuals want to be on insurance but cannot afford the cost."

And that's where her proposed program would come in.

Stemming out of her work with the North Carolina Medical Society Leadership College, the first step is establishing an annual health fair for early 2008 to focus on preventative care and lifestyle changes.

The second step -- and the one that most concerned the commissioners -- is beginning to put together and find funding for a countywide insurance plan. She said she and the N.C. Medical Society have estimated the cost of such a program to be about $40 to $50 million a year.

"That's a rough estimate. It could be more. It could be less," she said. "It's a lot of money, but it would be of enormous benefit to the community and cost-effective on the back end."

The money, Ms. Jenkins said, could come from a variety of sources -- individual, family, employer and community contributions, as well as a special sales tax on commonly used items.

It's the latter, she added, that she believes would be the most effective if legislative approval could be gained.

"A few cents on something like toilet paper -- that adds up over time," she said. "This would work if everybody contributes. With those funds we could go to the insurance company and get them to underwrite a basic plan so people can go see physicians and get emergency visits."

She did not ask for any money from the commissioners on Tuesday, though that door was left open.

"We'd like to know you're behind us in this effort," she said. "I think we will all sleep better at night knowing we're doing this. This is a very basic thing and I think Wayne County is equipped to do this. I feel very confident this can be done."

The other presentation heard by the commissioners came from Lillie Sanders of Magnolia, president of the non-profit Sanders' Service Center.

Ms. Sanders, who also was not asking for funding from the board, came simply to request support for her efforts to build a four-unit apartment building on the corner of Fifth and Railroad streets in Rose Hill to serve as emergency housing.

The two-bedroom, fully-furnished apartments would be available to families in Duplin and surrounding counties for up to three months.

She explained the motivation for this project came from her own experience of losing everything in a house fire.

She estimated construction costs to be about $250,000, not including the costs of furnishings, clothing, food and upkeep.

"I'm not here to appropriate money for this," Ms. Sanders told the board. "I'm asking for you to spread the word. We are asking for 250,000 people to come and invest one dollar.

"We don't have a United Way (in Duplin County). We don't have a Red Cross chapter. We don't have a Salvation Army. We've just got to look out for each other. I'm just doing what God has led me to do.

"My slogan is, 'if many can do little, we can do much,' and it won't take much once we start piling these one dollars on top of each other."

The rest of the commissioners' business was completed in short order as David Ward was re-appointed as county tax administrator, Tammy Peele was re-appointed as county tax collector and the current agreement between the commissioners, N.C. State and N.C. A&T State universities to provide Cooperative Extension services was renewed.

The board also approved $26,500 to contract between the county, the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the a beaver management program, while also accepting a $689,960 home and community care block grant the commission's Council for Older Adults.

And finally, the commissioners scheduled two board of adjustment hearings for 10 a.m. at their July 10 meeting.

One is to hear a petition from American Legion Post 11 for a special use permit to put a recreational vehicle campground on its property surrounding Legion Lake on the east side of U.S. 117 South.

The other is to hear a petition from Young's Auto Salvage on U.S. 117 alternate, south of the county fairgrounds. County Attorney Borden Parker explained that even though Ricky Young's land was rezoned in April, he still needs a special use permit to expand his operation.