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Editorial: A discussion worth having

Issues such as toll bridges, involuntary annexation and illegal immigration tend to get the debate juices flowing. That’s much less true regarding discussions about health care costs and insurance coverage, which can seem as tedious as a long wait at the dentist’s office.
Although health care coverage isn’t the sexiest political topic around, it’s still one of the most important. Fortunately, this year’s crop of gubernatorial candidates is taking the issue seriously and making it a prominent part of their campaign platforms. This was highlighted last week at a UNC-TV sponsored debate devoted to health care (a much more enlightening format than typical events that hopscotch from topic to topic). In one sense, the debate fell along conventional lines. The four main GOP candidates ó Bob Orr, Bill Graham, Fred Smith and Pat McCrory ó see solutions lying more in the private sector and cost containment efforts, including tort reform. The two main Democrats ó Beverly Perdue and Richard Moore ó see a larger role for government programs that would cover more of the uninsured, particularly children, and they also touted more wellness programs and preventive care.
This is a debate that needs to continue throughout the next few months, not only as it involves the N.C. gubernatorial race but also the presidential contest. The dual, and certainly interconnected, trends of rising health-care costs and higher numbers of the insured are readily apparent in North Carolina, especially in regions that have experienced significant losses of manufacturing jobs that often included health insurance benefits. More than 1.3 million North Carolinians under the age of 65 are uninsured, according to a recent estimate. That includes 240,000 children, and the number of uninsured youngsters has steadily risen in recent years. About 13 percent of N.C. children under 18 aren’t covered by health insurance, (a 20 percent increase since 2001). About 20 percent of N.C. children have untreated tooth decay, and roughly 29 percent of N.C. children between 12 and 18 are overweight, which may increase their chances of having diabetes and other chronic health problems later in life.
In 2007, in response to concerns about the state’s uninsured, N.C. leaders created a high-risk insurance pool that will help provide access to affordable coverage to some people with pre-existing conditions. They also established the framework for N.C. Kids’ Care, an affordable children’s health insurance program for families with incomes between 200 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Those effort came amid debate about expansion of the federal State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Although Congress approved the expansion, it was vetoed by President Bush.
Kudos to UNC-TV for providing an expanded debate format for an issue that should be of concern to all North Carolina voters (an April 24 debate will do the same for education). With the ranks of the uninsured steadily increasing, the state desperately needs new solutions for its health-coverage problems, not simplistic sound bites.

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