Commentary

ICYMI: Business, law enforcement leaders speak out for closing Medicaid coverage gap

In case you missed it, there have been two new and compelling op-eds in recent days from unlikely sources about Medicaid expansion and the ongoing critical need for North Carolina to expand it under the Affordable Care Act.

In “Closing N.C.’s health coverage gap is good for businesses and communities,” Triad businessman Don Flow says the following:

“What if I told you there was a way to add $4 billion a year to the state’s economy, create more than 40,000 jobs and provide health care to approximately 400,000 North Carolinians who don’t have it?

You would say it’s too good to be true, right?

But it is true. If the North Carolina General Assembly will support closing the health care ‘coverage gap’ in this year’s short session, we can fuel economic growth in the health care sector, save some of our rural hospitals and get back some of the tax dollars that we send to Washington.”

After listing the myriad benefits that would inure to the state — saving lives, adding jobs, saving rural hospitals — Flow closes by noting that many Republicans are finally coming around on the issue, including Rep. Donny Lambeth, primesponsor of the so-called “Carolina Cares” legislation, Flow closes like this:

“The time is right to close the coverage gap. Uncertainty over major federal changes to the health care system is now behind us.

The N.C. Medicaid program is stable and its financial predictability will increase with the transition to managed care.

With a proposal on the table, there is a path forward to address this critical issue and strengthen our economy while giving more North Carolinians access to affordable health care. It’s a good deal.”

Flow’s support for closing the Medicaid gap was echoed Monday in Raleigh’s News & Observer by another surprising voice, Nashville, NC police chief, Thomas Bashore. Chief Bashore’s plea is based on his desperate desire to attack the opioid crisis that plagues his community and so many others:

“One in five adults with an opioid use disorder, however, is uninsured. Only 20 percent of uninsured people with opioid use disorders have received outpatient treatment in the past year, barely half the rate of those with insurance. Today, more than 900,000 working-age North Carolinians do not have health insurance.

Law enforcement officers often have to take people with opioid use disorders to jail when what they really need is treatment. Having these individuals in jail instead of in treatment is the wrong use of taxpayer dollars and an inefficient use of limited law enforcement time and resources.

How do we reduce the number of uninsured people and expand access to affordable health care? One thing many states have done is allow people who are in the “coverage gap” (who are uninsured but earn too little to qualify for subsidies to afford insurance on the individual market) to enroll in Medicaid. Thirty-three red and blue states now allow people in the coverage gap to enroll in Medicaid. Closing the coverage gap would give more than 400,000 people access to affordable health insurance, including up to 150,000 with opioid use disorders and other substance use or mental health needs.”

The bottom line: Closing the coverage gap would be a life-saving, economy-boosting move and it remains a tragedy that a handful of ideologues continue to stand in the way.

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