Yesterday our NC Justice Center health group was down in Washington, NC hosting a meeting to discuss the Affordable Care Act, signing up and the need for NC to close the coverage gap by expanding Medicaid. The Washington Daily News announced the event and the Metropolitan AME Zion Church graciously opened its doors to us and local Affordable Care Act counselor Claudia Stokes gave her perspective as well. Stokes and her staff, working long hours out of the local community health center, have enrolled hundreds and hundreds of residents in affordable coverage down in one of the most rural areas of our state.
The NC Justice Center’s Adam Linker addresses the audience:
NC’s Washington is far from the larger metropolitan areas of our state and, while the absolute numbers of people without insurance are obviously lower than in Raleigh or Charlotte, the percentage of people without coverage is much higher. This has kept those on the front line of the Affordable Care Act – like Stokes – extraordinaily busy in our rural counties because of the great need coupled with the lower number of people able to assist in signing people up for plans. Remember that originally NC had $74 million in federal grants sitting in the bank and a plan to hire 500 people to travel the state helping our citizens get affordable care, but Governor Pat McCrory and the NC General Assembly, in addition to blocking Medicaid expansion, voted to send all that money back to the federal government and not hire anyone to help our citizens.
A critical piece that came out of our Washington meeting mirrored what we have found all over NC: the Governor and General Assembly’s decision to block the federally-funded Medicaid expansion in NC is creating immense hardship. We heard stories of people utterly devestated when they realized that they were “too poor” to get help from the Affordable Care Act because of NC’s decision to keep the coverage gap.
Impacts in our rural counties include enormous pressure on Beaufort County’s rural Belhaven hospital which will be much harder to keep open because the Medicaid expansion failure means fewer people who can pay for the hospital care they need.
Overall though, I was really encouraged at our Washington, NC meeting: It’s clear the Affordable Care Act is making an significant difference in the most far-flung and rural areas of our state. Talking with residents of the area made me more committed than ever though to finishing the job and making sure North Carolina expands Medicaid. With 100% federal money available for expansion for three years, the law never pays less than 90% of the costs of the huge investment in our people that decent health care for everyone means. With more and more states – including many states led by conservatives – moving toward bipartisan expansion solutions North Carolina shouldn’t be left behind in the now minority of states still holding out. After all, once conservative Arkansas (expanded), New Hampshire (expanded), and Utah (moving toward expansion) have made Medicaid coverage a priority can our NC politicians really keep claiming they can’t figure this out?