It’s good to be a conservative Republican until your rural hospital closes

I read a front-section story in the N&O yesterday about a small-town NC politician who walked all the way to DC to protest losing his town’s hospital.  I either didn’t read closely enough or it wasn’t in there, but apparently he’s also quite the conservative Republican.  He earned himself a column from Dana Milbank, though:

A week after Gibbs’s death [a 48 year-old heart attack victim who survived about an hour but the closest hospital was more than an hour away], O’Neal began a 15-day, 273-mile walk to Washington to draw attention to the outrage in Belhaven, which he blames on the combination of an “immoral” hospital operator and the failure of Republican leaders in his state to accept the new Medicaid funding the hospital needed to stay afloat…

What makes the mayor’s journey all the more compelling is he’s a white Southerner and a Republican officeholder who has conservative views on abortion, taxes, guns — “you name it,” he told me. But ideology and party loyalty have limits. “I’m a pretty conservative guy, but this is a matter of people dying,” he said.

Republicans nationwide have abandoned any consideration of offering an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, figuring that their complaints about President Obama’s selective implementation of the law, and lingering unease about the legislation itself, will be enough to motivate conservative voters in November. But as O’Neal points out, this political calculation has a moral flaw.

“If the  governor and the legislature don’t want to accept Medicaid expansion, they need to come up with another program to assure that rural hospitals don’t close,” the 45-year-old mayor said. Otherwise, he continued, “they’re allowing people to die to prove a point. That is wrong, and I’m not going to be a party to that.”

O’Neal is no fan of Obamacare, but during his journey, he sent a letter to Obama asking for a meeting. “I am a conservative Republican and I understand some of the suspicions political leaders in my party have,” he wrote. “But those concerns do not trump the need to maintain health services in struggling communities. Rural citizens dying should not be soldiers of the South’s defiance to the new health care law.”

Cognitive dissonance much?  Give me  a break.  You know what you call propping up economically unsustainable hospitals in rural areas just so people don’t die?  Socialism!!  Oh, it’s great to be a conservative Republican when it’s all those “other” people getting welfare, food stamps, etc.,  but when your white, rural community loses its economically un-viable hospital, well, damnit, the government better fix it!  Also, you know what you call the Medicaid expansion?  Obamacare.  And lastly, it’s not fair at all to single out NC Republicans for refusing the Medicaid expansion.  Republicans have similarly placed ideology above human life and health in 23 other states as well.  Can’t have those damn free-loaders getting medical care other than showing up near death in the ER, can we?

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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