Now that the general anxiety over last month’s election has subsided, citizens appear content to focus on the matters at hand, working with newly appointed representatives to find the best solutions for North Carolina needs. Whether the vote cast was red or blue, North Carolina citizens recognize that their leaders share a common purpose: security and prosperity for the state.
For the past four decades, Dr. James G. Martin has worked steadily toward these goals. Currently corporate vice president for Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS), Martin has served as a Mecklenburg County Commissioner (1966-1972), a U.S. Congressman (Representative N.C. District 9 from 1973-1985), and also the Governor of North Carolina (1985-1993), and has been an integral part of North Carolina businesses and communities.
In addition to his responsibilities at CHS, Martin is also a champion of health care issues and solidifying the emerging power of biotechnology in the North Carolina economy. Martin also holds several board positions for organizations dedicated to advancing the vital interests of state.
Making His Presence Known
A Southern birthright and chemistry Ph.D. from Princeton University led Martin to become what he calls a “mild mannered chemistry professor” at Davidson College, where he had earlier received his B.S. degree. In 1966 at the Davidson campus, Martin became increasingly agitated at the lack of a balanced two-party presence in the heavily Democratic political arena. It was then he determined he would try to galvanize a Republican presence in his precinct.
While Martin jokingly drawls, “I guess there was just a lust for power in my heart,” his ambitions were considerably more altruistic. Relates Martin, “The overwhelming political majority was handicapping choices for the people. I felt we would benefit greatly from more competition. While I realized at the time that my fledging philosophy could be considered ever so slightly conservative, my leanings toward the Republican Party at the time were much more practical politics than ideological position.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in Martin’s initiatives as the two-time chair of the Mecklenburg County Commissioners. Citing a Democratic tendency to determine budget allocations before conducting hearings, Martin championed significantly increased school funding. “Every department came to the county with budget requests, and it appeared that schools always ended up last in line. We made it our mission to turn that around. When Democrats begrudgingly allowed a referendum on school bonds and then campaigned against it, we took them to task, eventually securing the funds,” says Martin.
Martin was also integral in implementing land use planning, zoning ordinances and maps for the county, getting water and sewer lines to unincorporated areas outside the city limits, and establishing the first environmental enforcement mechanism in the state.
Martin’s local commitment was valued, and he was approached to replace to replace retiring U.S. Representative, Charles Jonas, as the Republican candidate for Congress. He took the fall and spring off from his professorship at Davidson, established a campaign based on fiscal conservatism and military strength, and entrenched himself in the fierce congressional battle from which he would emerge victorious.
Facing Serious Health Care Issues
During his six-term tenure in Congress from 1973 through 1985, Martin became heavily involved with the issues of Social Security and Medicare. He served for ten years on the uberpowerful House Ways and Means Committee and became ranking Republican on the Medicare subcommittee. In 1982 he sponsored HR 7000, a groundbreaking bill that proposed protecting individuals against catastrophic medical expenses (high-cost expenses related to serious chronic illness, accidents or surgeries) by providing a guarantee of financial assistance.
Interestingly, HR 7000 set the stage for the health care debate that continues to rage as health insurance expenses empty the coffers of employers all across the nation. Says Martin, “We were just then developing the language of ‘deductibles’ and otherwise, but we knew it was vital that the employee have a stake in his medical treatment.” It was also evident to Martin and his congressional peers that the opposing forces of quality and access could create a crisis.
Since health insurance was first introduced in WWII as an employer incentive (because of the wage freeze), it has become an integral component of employee compensation and a benefit employees have come to expect. Unfortunately, as health care costs rise due to administration fees, technological and pharmaceutical advances, unnecessary procedures, and overuse or indiscriminate use of services without regard for cost, businesses are paying as much as $7,000 annually per family of four for health benefits to attract and keep good employees. The cost of this is staggering to U.S. businesses; as small businesses crumble under the weight of health insurance costs, the fuel those businesses provide for the rest of the economy dries up. A domino effect ensues.
Says Martin, “This is why it is important that we have a market operation in health care. If a person realizes the cost of services because they are paying for it out of their own pocket, they will be able to evaluate the need for it. This empowers them with the ability to determine how much they will ultimately pay for health care. At the same time, most people cannot plan or budget for chronic illness, surgeries or extended care, and we felt these people should be protected from the financial ruin these situations can cause.”
HR 7000 was the precursor to more recent proposals to relieve the burden of health insurance costs on employers. MSAs and HCAs (Medical and Health Care Accounts, respectively), higher deductibles and co-payments, private insurance and catastrophic insurance loom on the horizon, as does the opposing option: nationalized, government-funded health care for all U.S. citizens.
Martin’s bill didn’t pass despite strong co-sponsor support. He fell 14 votes short, since the opposition to the bill was split into two poles. He recalls, “The (Ted) Kennedy Democrats were pushing for government to take fiscal responsibility for health care, and the more conservative Republicans felt that ratifying the bill could jeopardize the market factors that already existed. These two camps split the remaining support.”
With regard to the recent November elections and the rhetoric involving the double digit rise in health care costs and the 45 million uninsured Americans, Martin estimates that the debate is getting increasingly sharper, louder and more urgent. “The conversation focuses on three factors: the cost, access and quality of health care. Currently we want the best, state-of-the-art treatment, we want it immediately, and we want somebody else to pay for it. Something has got to give.”
He explains, “We want everybody who needs medical care to receive it, but if everybody receives it and NOT everybody can pay for it, someone or some entity must absorb the cost. These costs get spread among medical facilities, paying patients and government; any part the government pays means fewer funds allocated to other needs. If health care is nationalized into a government bureaucracy, other programs suffer.” ‰ This raises other hot-button issues like funding for homeland security, the military, tax refunds, social security, education… The list goes on and on, and therefore so does the national debate on health care.
As of 1984, the Congressional majority had continued three decades under Democratic control and Martin sought another avenue from which to be politically effective. Now empowered with considerable political experience and clout, Martin chose to run for Governor of North Carolina. The Governor’s race was best characterized by well-publicized in-fighting among the Democratic candidates. The fallout facilitated Martin’s win. His pet issues evolved into the next term’s campaign mantra: “Better Schools, Better Roads, Better Jobs,” and he enjoyed considerable support for his initiatives.
Says Martin, “In eight years, North Carolina moved from 38th to 28th in per family income; that is a considerable improvement.” Successes like these secured James G. Martin a national reputation as a committed, motivated and accomplished public servant, and a North Carolina political icon.
Working for the Future
Today, as corporate vice president of Carolinas HealthCare System, Martin is primarily engaged in representing the interests of the hospital system and its patients in health care debates and forums in Raleigh and Washington, D.C. In addition, he is a director of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, a private, non-profit corporation established in 1981 by the General Assembly to support and nurture the state biotechnology industry.
While serving as Governor of North Carolina, Martin worked alongside several of his congressional colleagues and developed relationships with several members of the current administration. Says Martin of his work today, “My work has brought me back in contact with Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy Thompson, who served as the Governor of Wisconsin while I served as Governor of North Carolina.”
Along with former N.C. Governor Jim Hunt, Martin co-chaired the research committee whose purpose was to solidify and expand North Carolina’s position as a formidable player in the biotech industry. Hunt and Martin presented a 54-point strategic outline this past October to Governor Mike Easley; its purpose: to define the necessary steps to keep North Carolina in its current 3rd-4th ranked national standing for biotechnology. North Carolina’s dedication to biotech has culminated in a $3 billion industry and 32,000 jobs with average annual salaries of $50,000. Martin says that implementing the study’s recommendations could create 48,000 new jobs in the next decade and 125,000 jobs by 2023.
“My work for biotechnology in general, and for the Center in particular, is to facilitate applied research to improve the delivery of health care by creating new drugs, new techniques, new technology, and innovation. Not only is this helping to improve health care, but also it helps North Carolina financially. By emphasizing invention and product development, we promote job growth, attract new businesses to the area, and to our universities.”
Martin has also worked tirelessly on securing federal funding for the eagerly anticipated Charlotte Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The Institute’s focus on applied science and three economic powerhouses for North Carolina: Precision Metrology, Optoelectronics and eBusiness, obviously fit some of the same parameters for success that Martin saw in the Center for Biotechnology.
While Martin’s experience, political acumen and ideology have evolved and expanded, it is clear by his daily routine of advocacy and his responsibilities at Carolinas HealthCare System, his heart has always been, and remains clearly focused on, the needs of North Carolinians.
Whether representing hospital, patient or community needs to a Washington, D.C. audience, serving on several vital boards, advocating and fundraising for health care, education and research institutions and a new Levine Children’s Hospital, or donating considerable personal funds to various causes (including a recent donation to Queens University and Davidson College), it becomes evident why Martin’s name covers street signs, buildings and schools. He has left his influential footprints all over the state of North Carolina.