GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – If you look at data and data alone, two of the worst cities in the U.S. for dealing with people with disabilities are Greensboro and Winston-Salem – which aren’t much worse than the other largest cities in North Carolina.

The data crunchers of WalletHub analyzed this issue, and their findings are ugly in the Piedmont Triad: Greensboro ranked No. 173 out of 182 cities evaluated, and Winston-Salem was No. 179.

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The bottom three, if you want company for your misery, are three cities along the Gulf Coast: Tallahassee, Florida; Mobile, Alabama; and Gulfport, Mississippi.

The top of the list? That would be Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Columbia, Maryland, and Huntington Beach, California. Our neighbors just up the coast in Virginia Beach came in at No. 9.

And lest the Triad was to feel bad, four of the six North Carolina cities evaluated scored in the bottom 20 of the list.

WalletHub is a financial-advice company, so its focus here was on factors such as cost of living, availability of transportation and accessibility. Its analysts reviewed data about the economy, quality of life and health care for the disabled in the 150 most populated cities – the core cities and not suburban cities – plus at least two of the most populated cities in each state.

There were 34 metrics that were assembled under those topics – you probably can guess a lot of them, such as housing cost under economy or wheel-chair access under quality – weighted and graded on a 100-point scale. Analysts had to fudge some of the comparatives because not every state had the same data, but an overall score was calculated.

Source: WalletHub

Minneapolis’ top tally was 56.63, and Gulfport’s worst was 35.17. The best ranking among cities in North Carolina was Raleigh at No. 81, with a score of 49.22

Durham came in at No. 110 (with a score of 47.03), Charlotte was at No. 164 (43.0), and Fayetteville was No. 175 (41.44).

Greensboro posted 41.73, and Winston-Salem was at 40.44. But why were they so low?

Greensboro had among the lowest scores for quality of life and health care, Nos. 159 and 166, respectively, and ranked in the bottom five (No. 177) for family medicine physicians per capita. Durham (177) and Charlotte (last at 180) were worse.

Winston-Salem was even worse for quality of life (174) and ranked among the bottom five (No. 98 on a shorter list) for percentage of population with access to a walkable park. Charlotte was worse (at No. 99).

What the experts say

Doron Dorfman, Seton Hall (WalletHub)

WalletHub, as is its habit, asked some experts about what the key factors were for evaluating the best cities. The goal was to get a list of five indicators.

Doron Dorfman, a law professor at Seton Hall University School of Law who focuses on disability law and health law, among other things, stuck to the task and therein might have hit on a key point for North Carolina (in his words):

  • Affordability of Housing.
  • Accessible public transportation.
  • Medicaid expansion at the state level.
  • Sidewalk and business accessibility.
  • Having an office for the rights of people with disabilities within the mayor’s office is often helpful.
  • The existence of a disability community to provide support and consultation (many times through independent living centers).
Michelle R. Haney, Berry College (WalletHub)

Michelle R. Haney, chair of the Psychology Department at Berry College in Mount Berry, Ga., was a bit more circumspect with her list:

  • Quality of public transportation has to be important.
  • I would reach out to organizations like Centers for Independent Living– these are federally funded centers run by people with disabilities to support other people with disabilities. All states should have them.

Medicaid expansion

Scroll back to the third item on Dorfman’s list: “Medicaid expansion,” which is a topic we know well in North Carolina. The topic represents about 10% of the points under the “quality of life” category created by WalletHub. Medicaid is considered the “primary health insurance program for people with disabilities.”

Expanding access to Medicaid appears finally to be a front-burner item in North Carolina, but Republican leaders in the state Senate and the state House haven’t been on the same page with the same bullet points under the umbrella of removing North Carolina from a list of 12 states that had not expanded Medicaid since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

As recently as mid-July, a couple of weeks after the end of the General Assembly’s short session, Gov. Roy Cooper and state Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem), a principal in Medicaid expansion legislation, were expressing hope and optimism that even though the session had been completed that Medicaid could be expanded soon.

But that hasn’t happened, and earlier this month Kody H. Kinsley, North Carolina’s secretary for Health and Human Services, sent a letter to the leaders of the General Assembly telling them they should expand Medicaid this month or lose more than $1 billion in federal payments and jeopardize medical coverage for thousands of residents.

Since then the North Carolina Healthcare Association, which has opposed some elements of the proposed plan, has tried to broker a solution, sending a letter to Cooper to offer money as well as advice.