• Donna Lake for NC

Medicaid expansion is more vital now than ever

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

When the year began, I’m sure none of us thought our daily lives would look like they do today.

Our communities are suffering great losses on every scale. From lost graduation celebrations to lost jobs too, most painful of all lost loved ones; we are grieving together and I have been so encouraged by the acts of kindness and togetherness I have seen among neighbors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the lives and the livelihoods of all North Carolinians. More than 115K Americans have died and more than 1.1 million North Carolinians have filed for unemployment. Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance as a direct impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Not to mention those on the frontlines of this pandemic, essential workers who have been underinsured for far too long.

We are all experiencing unparalleled levels of loss. But what we must focus on now is our ability to turn this loss into action and make the changes our state needs moving forward. We cannot destroy this virus, but we can ensure that we take care of our people.

That is why I am urging those in the General Assembly to keep our most vulnerable in their mind and expand Medicaid during this legislative session. Amid the outbreak, expanding Medicaid would give those recently unemployed and the uninsured and underinsured access to quality and affordable health care.

If the Republican-led general assembly had expanded Medicaid in 2019, more than 194,000 members of the working poor, who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to purchase their own insurance plans, would currently have access to affordable coverage. More than half a million North Carolinians would have new access to quality and affordable health care, and would not now be choosing between putting food on the table and paying seemingly endless medical bills.

Study after study has proven that expanding Medicaid improves lives, particularly in southern states, and numerous reports have found that expanding Medicaid would benefit every county in North Carolina, especially Wayne and Lenoir where our hospitals are struggling.

Expanding Medicaid would create over 37,000 new health care jobs in North Carolina and boost paychecks across the state. Our rural areas would also get a much needed boost. Medicaid Expansion would bring more health care jobs to our rural areas and keep rural hospitals open, reducing the chances of a rural hospital closing by 62 percent. Additionally, expansion would help reimburse some of our struggling rural medical centers and alleviate some of the medical debt accumulating during this pandemic and economic recession.

Let me be very clear, Medicaid expansion does not mean eliminating private insurance, it simply gives those who do not have private insurance access to quality, affordable health care. I do not support a “state takeover” of your healthcare, nor would I suggest that you should lose your private insurance, if you are happy with it. In fact, those who keep their private health insurance would save money in the long run; insurance premiums are on average lower in states that have expanded Medicaid, as there is less cost-shifting when there are fewer uninsured.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought unprecedented amounts of uncertainty to the lives of us all, but one thing remains certain. Our communities are suffering and we have the power to make much-needed changes to our state’s infrastructure that would ease this suffering.

We must act, and all do our part to help our fellow North Carolinians through this crisis, together.

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