Yesterday the U.S. Census Bureau released state-level data on the number of people with and without health insurance in 2015. Good news: these data show that North Carolina’s uninsured rate has fallen from 15.6 percent to 11.2 percent between 2013 and 2015. This progress is a testament to the success of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has enabled hundreds of thousands of Tar Heels to enroll in private coverage at reduced cost. But that progress has come in spite of state lawmakers’ best efforts to prevent full implementation of the law in North Carolina. Even with these accomplishments, North Carolina’s uninsured rate is too high, and it remains well above the national average.
While these Census data bring good news for many states and for the nation as a whole—the national uninsured rate is down to a historic low of 9.1 percent, thanks to the ACA—North Carolina and other states that haven’t expanded Medicaid lag behind the rest of the country. States that expanded Medicaid have seen much larger reductions of their uninsured populations, leading to improved access to care, reduced financial barriers, and better health outcomes for consumers.
In Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia—fairly conservative states that all voted heavily Republican in the previous two presidential elections—lawmakers chose to close the coverage gap, reducing their uninsured rates by 6.5%, 8.3%, and 8.0% respectively. When compared to the progress in these peer states, North Carolina’s 4.5 percent reduction is simply not good enough.
What’s more, North Carolina’s refusal of federal funds to close the coverage gap leaves us with 11th highest uninsured rate in the entire country. No self-respecting North Carolinian would boast “We’re number 39!” We can do better than this.
Fortunately, it’s not too late for the State to close the coverage gap and guarantee that up to 500,000 hard-working North Carolinians can access the care they need to stay healthy and provide for their families. While we do have time, it’s not clear that North Carolina has leadership who will rise above politics and do the right thing for its residents’ health and finances, as well as the state economy.