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Guest Blog: Why We Need to Close the Gap

My name is Michelle Ballasiotes and I have been an advocate for the American Heart Association since I was 8 years old. Before I was born, my mom had an ultrasound that showed that my brain ventricles were enlarged. It was determined that I would most likely be born with hydrocephalus and need a ventroperitoneal shunt placed in my brain.

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When I was 3 days old, I had brain surgery and this suspicion was confirmed. I do have hydrocephalus that is a result of a stroke that I suffered before birth. I also have right hemiplegia, which is a form of cerebral palsy. I started going to weekly occupational and physical therapy when I was just 6 months old and wore a plastic brace on my right leg until I was about 12. I also had surgery on my right leg to help me walk better.

I say all of this not to simply share my story, but to show you that all of this was only possible through a great insurance plan that my dad had. The brain surgery that was needed to save my life was expensive, let alone going to weekly therapy sessions every week for over 10 years. What if my family did not have insurance? I can’t say that I would have gotten all of the therapy that I truly needed in order to be where I am today.

There are more complex issues that stem from the cost of healthcare as well. Sometimes families have to choose between putting nutritious food on the table and paying for necessary medication. It creates a cycle because without nutritious food, people are more susceptible to becoming sick and will therefore have to pay more medical bills in the long run. We must realize that providing health insurance for the 340,000 North Carolinians earning less than 138% of the federal poverty line will be cheaper in the long term. Providing health insurance for these people will make them more productive members of society.

The fact that access to health insurance is not viewed as a human right in this state and across the country baffles me. We are depriving people of the right to health and well-being. It is a shame that many people in this country have to set up donation pages to pay for their medical bills, as is the case with one of my classmates from high school who became seriously ill. When many of the 340,000 people under the coverage gap develop more serious illnesses because they avoid going to the doctor in hopes of “saving” medical costs, it impacts all of us. The Legislature has the power to close the coverage gap. Please, join me and ask your legislators to save lives and create a healthier, more productive North Carolina.

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