On July 1, a local hospital in Belhaven, North Carolina closed its doors in part because the state legislature opposed the expansion of Medicaid. Since its closure, the liberal media rallied behind the town’s mayor Adam O’Neal, who has repeatedly complained about his fellow Republicans refusing to expand Medicaid.
While O’Neal has become the newest media darling for the left, including making numerous appearances on MSNBC, perhaps the most obnoxious response to the story came from the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who on July 28 declared “North Carolina Republicans put ideology above lives.”
Milbank began his piece by rushing to blame North Carolina legislators for the death of 48-year-old Portia Gibbs:
On July 1, the hospital in rural Belhaven, N.C., closed — a victim, in part, of the decision by the state’s governor and legislature to reject the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.
Six days later, 48-year-old Portia Gibbs, a local resident, had a heart attack. The medevac to take her to the next-nearest hospital (as many as 84 miles away, depending on where you live) didn’t get there in time.
The Washington Post columnist continued his attack on the North Carolina GOP by pointing out how the mayor of Belhaven is in fact a Republican and thus his criticism of his own party should be taken seriously:
A week after Gibbs’s death, 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.
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.”
Inexplicably, the White House didn’t reach out to O’Neal. The mayor did, however, get a place on the calendar of Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who is facing a strong challenge from Thom Tillis, the state House speaker who helped block the Medicaid expansion.
While Milbank is correct that the lack of Medicaid funding contributed to the Belhaven hospital’s closing, blaming the North Carolina Republican Party for a woman’s death is a cheap partisan attack. The Washington Post columnist could have easily run a story on someone dying in a state that expanded Medicaid. Instead Milbank chose to blame Republicans and dismissed their opposition to Medicaid expansion as just about putting “ideology above lives.”