By: Peg O’Connell, Chair, Care4Carolina
North Carolina exceeded 1000 hospitalizations for COVID-19 related illness this week and we have in excess of 85,000 confirmed cases. These are the highest numbers we have seen so far during this pandemic. While we are doing better than some of our neighboring states, we still have a lot of very sick people.
At the same time these numbers are increasing, we have a growing number of people who find themselves uninsured or in the coverage gap due to the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.
We are doing more testing, and those tests are being done at no charge for those who can’t afford to pay. This is a good thing, but what do people do who find out they have tested positive, but can’t afford to see a doctor, let alone afford the cost of hospitalization?
Layer this with North Carolina’s traditionally higher rates of stroke (the eastern part of our state is in the buckle of the Stroke Belt) and cardiovascular disease and, in my humble opinion, this makes for a very toxic cocktail.
As we hear every night on the news, people with chronic disease or underlying health conditions are much more vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19. It continues to look like older people with coronary heart disease or high blood pressure are more likely to develop more severe symptoms.
Stroke survivors and those with heart disease, including high blood pressure and congenital heart defects, appear to face an increased risk for complications if they become infected with the COVID virus. People with diabetes, compromised immune systems, chronic lung diseases and other underlying conditions also appear to be at risk of more severe illness, according to the CDC.
Why is this important? Because, North Carolina has the 29th highest age-adjusted heart disease death rate among the 50 states. Our eastern counties tend to have a higher burden of heart disease (e.g., death and hospitalization rates) compared to the rest of the state. But high rates of heart disease mortality are also found in some southern and western counties. This is not somebody else’s problem.
Poverty, being uninsured or being unable to afford basic health care are some of the contributing factors to our high rates of cardiovascular disease and other chronic health conditions. Finding a North Carolina solution to close the coverage gap would be a big step forward in reducing the deaths and hospitalizations from heart disease and its complications and would also go along way toward reducing the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are we waiting for?