WakeMed CEO: Health care reform needed

RALEIGH In North Carolina, one in six people do not have coverage, and a top medical official says that is proof the system needs change.

"Every single person in this country needs to pay attention to [the data]," said Dr. Bill Atkinson, WakeMed CEO.

The census data on health coverage covers 2007 and 2008 and shows a slight improvement from two years before.

However, almost 16 percent of North Carolinians have no health insurance.

"This is about one of the most important things in life, which is your health and the health of your family," Atkinson said. "And it's important that we don't mess it up."

WakeMed cares for 80 percent of Wake County's uninsured patients.

Atkinson said that number is proof there needs to be health care reform.

"The most important point is we need to stop talking about it and do something," Atkinson said. "We need change in American healthcare."

Most of the recession and job and insurance losses of 2009 are not seen in those numbers. And Atkinson said WakeMed is seeing a record number of uninsured coming through their doors. It equals 10 percent of WakeMed's patients.

And who pays the uninsured's bills? Other patients with insurance pay the bills.

"It's not fair to any of us," Atkinson said.

Some are skeptical of the timing of the data release.

"It would not surprise me if these numbers come out in a way to try to bolster the President's cause, even though we are constantly told the Census Department is not a political operation," Atkinson said. "People want to make it a political issue. This is a common sense issue. And this is a question of it is about the moral character of our nation and how we feel about people in need."

The census numbers show NC ranks 14 among states with the highest percentage without health insurance.

The highest is Texas, where more than one in four don't have health insurance.

The lowest is Massachusetts, where less than 6 percent are without coverage.

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