Advocates, providers, and people in the coverage gap gathered at the General Assembly yesterday to champion for Medicaid expansion. When NC legislators passed SB 4 in 2013, which purposely blocked the state from closing the coverage gap, advocates knew that it would take continued action of many to ensure that NC legislators understand the health, social, and economic benefits of Medicaid expansion.
The press event hosted by Sen. Floyd McKissick at the General Assembly was the culmination of a week of activities that helped raise awareness about the impact of failing to extend coverage to approximately 500,000 people in the coverage gap. On an individual level, Medicaid expansion will increase people’s ability to receive less costly preventive care and improve people’s ability to manage chronic medical conditions instead of relying on emergency care. Sonya Taylor, who is in the coverage gap, shared her story during the press event. Ms. Taylor noted that she has to rely on the support of church, family, and friends not just to deal with the pain, but to be able to afford to see a primary care provider. She works and saves money, but because of the complexity of her medical condition, she cannot report good health because occasional visits to a primary care doctor are not enough.
Ignoring the call to expand Medicaid also impacts entire counties. As Dr. Charlie van der Horst said during his speech, residents in low-resource counties such as Scotland, Vance, Caldwell, Anson, and Lenoir counties are two times more likely to die prematurely than residents of more affluent counties like Wake County. Statewide, closing the coverage gap could prevent 1,000 unnecessary deaths each year. When you consider the fact that many rural hospitals are especially vulnerable to closing without the financial boost they would receive from Medicaid expansion, many more children, families and working adults are likely to face poor health outcomes.
On the state-level, lawmakers rejected 43,000 jobs by 2020 when they failed to expand Medicaid this year. Each year that legislators refuse increasing access to health care to nearly a half million North Carolinians, they are also failing to accept $2 billion in federal funds. Refusing to close the coverage gap also prevents approximately 144,000 children from receiving necessary health care because they lack health coverage. Further, 29,000 fewer individuals in NC would report experiencing depression each year if lawmakers would expand Medicaid. Each year policymakers fail to the close the coverage gap, 40,000 women do not receive preventive screenings. While the day of advocacy is over, we must continue to remind legislators that closing the coverage gap is a not a political game, but a policy that impacts the health and economic well-being of children, workers, families, communities, and the entire state.