North Carolina has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the nation, but our elected officials can dramatically reduce that number by expanding Medicaid now. Senate Republicans recently introduced and passed a health care bill that includes expanding Medicaid. Now it’s up to NC House to act, where we face a greater hurdle. But make no mistake, the time to act is now.
As executive director of the non-profit organization Pisgah Legal Services, serving thousands of working poor every year, I know the devastating effects of not having health care on low-income people, both on the both in terms of quality of life and financially. Expanding Medicaid to include anyone below 138% of the federal poverty level would provide healthcare coverage to 600,000 North Carolinas who desperately need it. It would increase access to mental health care, reduce opioid-related overdose deaths, help people who need surgery get back to work, and give people diagnosed with cancer a chance to live through screenings and to early detection.
There are many other reasons to support Medicaid expansion:
It would strengthen our rural hospitals, keep their doors open and keep jobs in our rural communities. The expansion would reduce medical debt, reduce uncompensated care costs and provide better access to care. Believe it or not, people won’t seek treatment if they can’t afford it.
It would bring $2 billion in federal funds to our economy, create well-paying health care jobs, and increase coverage for many employees of small business owners, helping to keep staff healthy and working.
Still not convinced? Consider these facts:
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, among uninsured adults who would be eligible for Medicaid if it were expanded in North Carolina, seven in 10 are part of a family with at least one worker. Three out of four are adults living in poverty. Half are white, the other half are people of color. Other adults are partially disabled and not disabled enough to currently qualify for Medicaid.
The expansion reduces racial disparities in health. In the United States, black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications. With this expansion, we could reduce racial maternal mortality, improve birth weights, and reduce premature birth rates.
Thousands of veterans benefit from it. One in four veterans who would qualify for Medicaid coverage served in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, this expansion is endorsed by veterans of foreign wars in North Carolina.
About 73,000 women of childbearing age in NC would receive coverage through Medicaid expansion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The elderly benefit from it. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says adults ages 55 to 64 would benefit from an increase in prescriptions filled for heart disease, diabetes, mental health issues and other chronic conditions.
And men and women of all ages would benefit from increased access to health care, increasing the number of those receiving asthma treatment, BMI tests, mammograms and hypertension control. Early detection of life-threatening diseases would literally save lives – and it’s within reach and overdue. We must act now.
Thirty-eight states have already expanded Medicaid, including Republican-led states such as Arkansas, Oklahoma and Indiana. In doing so, these states were able to stabilize their private health insurance costs and reduce health care costs overall. North Carolina is one of only 12 states in the nation lagging behind, needlessly forcing its citizens to live without desperately needed health care and without the many economic benefits that expanding Medicaid would bring.
Everyone benefits from the expansion. Health insurance costs go down because hospitals don’t have to pass on the costs of indigent care to the rest of the population. Strong support exists from both Democrats and Republicans. Last year, Strategic Partners Solutions conducted a live interview survey of 600 registered Republican voters, and 62% supported expansion in North Carolina. Another recent Meredith poll shows that more than 70 percent of North Carolina residents, regardless of political spectrum, support Medicaid expansion.
With so much at stake and so much to gain by closing our state’s health insurance coverage gap, urge our representatives to follow the lead of the North Carolina Senate in supporting and embracing Medicaid expansion to closing our North Carolina coverage gap once and for all. If you agree, make your voice heard with me!
For 29 years, Jim Barrett served as executive director of Pisgah Legal Services, which provides free civil legal aid, poverty advocacy and access to health care in the 18-county WNC region.