North Carolina has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the country, but our elected officials can cut that number dramatically by expanding Medicaid now. Senate Republicans recently introduced and passed a health care bill that includes Medicaid expansion. Now it is on to the N.C. House for action, where we face a bigger hurdle. But make no mistake, now is the time to act.
As the executive director of nonprofit Pisgah Legal Services, serving thousands of working poor folks each year, I know the devastating effects not having health care has on people with low incomes, both in their quality of life and financially. Medicaid expansion to include everyone below 138% of the federal poverty level would provide health coverage to 600,000 North Carolinians who desperately need it. It would increase access to mental health care, lower opioid-related overdose deaths, help people who need an operation go back to work, and give a fighting chance at life to those diagnosed with cancer thanks to screenings and 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. Expansion would reduce medical debt, decrease uncompensated care costs and provide greater access to care. Believe it or not, people will not seek medical care if they do not have a way to pay for it.
It would bring in $2 billion in federal funds to our economy, create high-paying health care jobs, and increase coverage for many small business owners’ employees, helping to keep staff healthy and at work.
Still not convinced? Consider these facts:
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, of the uninsured adults who would be eligible for Medicaid if it’s expanded in North Carolina, seven in 10 are in a family with at least one worker. Three out of four are adults living in poverty. Half are white, half are people of color. Other adults are partially disabled and not disabled enough to qualify for Medicaid currently.
Expansion reduces racial health disparities. Black women in the U.S. are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications. With this expansion, we could decrease racial maternal mortality, improve birth weights and lower rates of preterm births.
Thousands of veterans benefit. One in four veterans who would benefit from Medicaid coverage has served in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, this expansion is endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in North Carolina.
Approximately 73,000 women of reproductive age in N.C. would gain coverage through Medicaid expansion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Older adults benefit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that adults aged 55-64 would benefit from an increase in prescriptions filled for heart disease, diabetes, mental health conditions, and other chronic conditions.
And men and women of all ages would benefit from increased access to health care, increasing the number of those getting asthma treatment, BMI screenings, 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. By doing so these states have been smart to stabilize their private health insurance costs and lower health care costs overall. North Carolina is one of only 12 states in the country that lags behind, unnecessarily forcing its citizens to live without desperately needed health care and the many economic benefits Medicaid expansion would bring.
Everyone benefits from expansion. Health insurance costs decline because hospitals don’t have to shift costs of indigent care to the rest of the population. Strong support exists from 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% of North Carolinians, across the political spectrum, support Medicaid expansion.
With so much at stake and so much to gain from closing our state’s health insurance coverage gap, let’s urge our House representatives to follow the lead of the N.C. Senate to support and pass Medicaid expansion to close our North Carolina’s coverage gap once and for all. If you agree, please make your voice heard with me!
Jim Barrett for 29 years has served as the executive director of Pisgah Legal Services, which provides free, civil legal aid, anti-poverty advocacy and access to health care in the 18-county WNC region.