Conservatives, rural leaders in NC call for Medicaid expansion

Earlier this month, the county commissioners in rural Franklin County North Carolina unanimously passed a resolution to expand Medicaid and get health coverage to their low-income neighbors. They are urging their state legislators (namely Rep. Lisa Stone Barnes and Senator John Alexander, both Republicans) to work across the aisle to pass a bill. Franklin Commissioners cited many reasons for their support, particularly the high numbers of North Carolinians who work hard but simply don’t earn enough to buy private health insurance.   

Meanwhile, across the state in rural mountain Haywood County, the Waynesville Town Council passed their own similar resolution in support of a bipartisan compromise Medicaid expansion proposal (House Bill 655)The all-Republican Graham county commissioners passed one last summer. 

Don’t think there has been a blue wave in rural North Carolina. The same night as the Medicaid expansion resolution, the Franklin Commissioners passed another resolution to uphold and defend the Second Amendment – that is, the right to bear arms. Like many rural North Carolina counties, Franklin is a place where many residents, Democrats and Republicans, own and use guns. And like many rural North Carolina counties, there is widespread agreement that Medicaid expansion would be hugely beneficial here 

While these counties’ health care resolutions may seem out of step with the Republican leaders who control the NC General Assembly, they reflect the practical and nonpartisan nature of the health coverage crisis felt in many rural communities. Nowhere is this more true than in states like ours that have not yet expanded Medicaid 

Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger (both Republicans) have refused to schedule votes on any Medicaid expansion bill. They’ve been taken to task for it by conservatives and moderates in communities across the state. Just a few examples:  

  • Graham County commissioner Dale Wiggins’ letter to Senator Berger after the Graham County commissioners passed a similar resolution in August 2019.  
  • Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, who has said that due to lack of health coverage, he’s running the largest mental health facility in Alamance County – inside his jail.  
  • Moore county businessman and former GOP gubernatorial candidate George Little, who believes that the barriers to health coverage are hurting local businesses.   

Business owners, health care executives, and people living without health coverage – many of whom identify as conservatives – have joined the call for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. In fact, 17 local chambers of commerce and over 100 influential business leaders across the state have also joined the call to close the health insurance coverage gap. When legislators return to Raleigh in April for their next session, will legislative leaders continue to cover their ears and look the other way 

Adam Sotak is NC Child’s Public Engagement Director. This essay appeared originally on the group’s “For Children’s Sake” blog.

Commentary, Legislature

Legislative fail: Health care special session

Image: Adobe Stock

When Rachel Radford made the trip to Raleigh Wednesday morning, she was hoping to get the chance to talk with her legislators about expanding Medicaid.

“So many families like mine have the most unappreciated, most overlooked job to care for children who have special abilities,” said Radford, a parent and advocate from Goldsboro NC. “Unfortunately caring for children with special needs is not a job that comes with health insurance. Every parent needs health coverage so that we can survive to care for our children. We need our legislators to pass Medicaid expansion swiftly.”

Unfortunately Rachel’s legislators weren’t there to listen.

Speaker Moore and Senate Pro Tem Berger had called legislators to Raleigh for a “special session” that was supposed to be about health care. That session was called to order on Tuesday morning. Legislators adjourned and left Raleigh the same day with no budget, and no action on health care.

Once again, legislative leaders did not allow any discussion or vote to expand Medicaid – despite the fact that they have a bipartisan bill on the table in HB 655.

More than half a million North Carolinians, including Rachel and her husband, can’t see a doctor when they need one, because reliable health insurance is out of reach. Children need healthy parents by their sides. And children are more likely to have health coverage and get the care they need, when their parents are covered. To drive that point home, in 2018 the number of uninsured children in North Carolina increased for the second year in a row.

House Speaker Tim Moore promised a House vote on the compromise legislation in September, when House members voted to override the Governor’s veto of the state budget.

“I said, we will actually vote on the Carolina Cares Medicaid bill. I’m going to keep my word. We’re going to vote on that bill,” Moore stated in his press conference after the veto override, adding that the vote would take place the following week.

Months later, the House has still not been allowed to vote on the issue, and the Senate has never even discussed it in a committee meeting. Speaking to NC Health News last week, bill sponsor Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth) made it clear that Moore and Berger are the ones standing in the way of action on his compromise bill.

“I think the House is in a good position to move it whenever we decide to do that, whenever leadership decides to give me the okay to move forward,” Lambeth said.

Meanwhile thousands of people in every North Carolina county have no access to affordable health coverage. We need legislative leaders to put political games aside and get the job done.

Three-quarters of states have already accepted the federal funds to expand their Medicaid programs. These states are saving money and getting care to those who need it most, according to dozens of peer-reviewed studies. Kansas just announced they will be the latest “red” state to expand Medicaid.North Carolina should be the next.

Adam Sotak is NC Child’s Public Engagement Director. His article initially appeared on the NC Child website.