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NC Left Me OutA group of coalition partners working in North Carolina to close the Medicaid coverage gap has launched a new website called NC Left Me Out to collect stories of people who make too much for Medicaid and too little for private insurance. As the website explains, the Affordable Care Act specifically allocated funds to provide affordable insurance coverage to approximately 500,000 people in our state. Unfortunately, the Governor and the legislature have blocked those funds from coming to North Carolina. Many of the individuals and families who could use this money to get insurance coverage work in low-wage professions like construction, day care, and food service.

At a press conference today Dana Wilson, a woman in the coverage gap who suffers from MS, shared her story. You can watch her video here.

The legislature and the Governor need to hear from more people like Dana, the working poor who are being unfairly denied coverage. If you are in the coverage gap please consider sharing your story on the NC Left Me Out website. If you want to support the campaign then you can sign up as well.

Every week a new Governor shows the leadership to formulate a plan for extending insurance coverage to people in the Medicaid gap. Last week the conservative state of Indiana had a plan approved. States like Wyoming and Utah are moving forward with similar ideas. We need Governor McCrory to show us his plan for closing the coverage gap. He has publicly hinted that he wants to design a state-specific Medicaid waiver. Great, let’s get moving. Every day that we wait is another day people like Dana suffer.

We need to continue telling our stories to the media, to legislators, and to the Governor. If the economic arguments and moral arguments don’t win the day, maybe looking into the eyes of those who have been denied coverage will begin changing minds.

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We have written before about King v. Burwell, the case that will be heard before the US Supreme Court to determine whether or not health insurance subsidies can flow to states that refused to establish state-based marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act. As John Stewart has noted, justices would have to be more literal than Amelia Bedelia to find for the plaintiffs, but we live in strange times where anything seems possible.

The next question then is if the Supreme Court strikes down subsidies how many people would it impact? Now Kaiser Family Foundation has a helpful interactive map to estimate an answer. KFF researchers think more than 13 million people nationally, and about 1 million people in North Carolina, would lose tax credits if the Supreme Court denies subsidies to federal marketplace states. For most of these folks insurance would immediately become unaffordable. This is especially true because prices would most likely spiral upward as younger, healthier enrollees lose coverage.

That is a stunning figure. It would be like the Supreme Court cutting the number of North Carolinians receiving Medicare in half.

The cruel truth is that Congress could easily fix this problem by adding a few words to the Affordable Care Act, but they are so obsessed with repealing the legislation that they are unlikely to repair it. The state legislature could also provide a patch by at least establishing a governance structure for a state-based marketplace, but they are also unlikely to move. After all, the federal government stands ready to pay the state to expand insurance to 500,000 more state residents and that hasn’t gained any legislative traction.

So, we wait, while medical care for 1 million North Carolinians hangs in the balance.

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As noted below, Gov. McCrory met with President Obama to discuss flexibility in using Medicaid expansion money to implement a North Carolina specific program that will extend health insurance to more low-income residents. As we have also said, the federal government has shown a tremendous willingness to accommodate governors who request authority to design new and innovative programs. This is all encouraging and kudos to the Governor for sticking his toe in the water.

What is not encouraging is McCrory floating the idea of work requirements as a condition to receive health insurance. As McCrory notes in the article, Utah’s Governor has pushed this idea unsuccessfully. Our Governor feels that President Obama may reconsider his opposition to this idea. That will not happen.

As background, an 1115 waiver allows states to waive some traditional protections in Medicaid to experiment with new ideas that can improve this important health insurance program. Specifically, waivers are meant to promote the ultimate objectives of Medicaid. Several states, for example, now have waivers to purchase private insurance plans for low-income people who would be eligible for Medicaid under expansion. This is an interesting and worthwhile experiment and we will collect important information on outcomes and costs from these state innovations.

Some Governors are abusing this process by applying for 1115 waivers that do nothing but erect barriers for people who need health insurance. A prime example is requesting a waiver that requires people to report to work search programs as a condition of receiving health insurance benefits. This is not innovative. It is not new. We know what happens when you include work requirements as a condition for receiving public benefits. It means many people will not be able to access insurance.

The waiver approved in Pennsylvania includes a provision that automatically refers unemployed people to job programs when they enroll in insurance. That’s fine as long as insurance is not contingent on participation in the work program.

We know, for these reasons, that a work requirement will not be approved by the federal government. There is some concern that Gov. McCrory may use this as a poison pill to sink a Medicaid expansion proposal and then blame the Obama Administration for not showing enough flexibility. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

Gov. McCrory has plenty of room to create a North Carolina specific plan to cover low-income people in the state. He should drop this one idea that everyone knows will never get approved and move forward with an evidence-based, innovative policy.

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A new report from Cone Health Foundation and Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust finds that North Carolina lost out on billions of dollars and thousands of jobs by refusing to close the Medicaid coverage gap in 2014 and 2015. If the state acts in 2016, however, we can recoup some lost ground by covering 500,000 more people. Such a move would create 43,000 new jobs by 2020 and reap $1 billion in tax revenue for the state and counties. Closing the coverage gap would save the state budget more than $300 million by 2020.

As followers of this blog know the state had a chance, starting in 2014, to expand Medicaid eligibility to all individuals and families earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. More than half the states have now opted into this deal and they are attracting a huge return on investment. This new report is the first of its kind in the nation that takes a detailed look at every county in the state and uses a nationally respected model to estimate the impact of Medicaid expansion on tax revenue, job creation, business activity, and coverage.

The results are startling. In Robeson County expanding Medicaid would generate more than 700 jobs. In Moore County it would create nearly 500 jobs. In Nash County it would create more than 300 jobs. This is the equivalent of a fleet of new large employers locating in dozens of communities across the state. The increased economic activity will produce more county tax revenue at a time when many local governments are sputtering by on fumes. For Wake County, Medicaid expansion would net more than $25 million in tax revenue. It would earn Guilford County more than $11 million.

New data confirms in finer detail what we have always known, expanding Medicaid eligibility is a no-brainer. Thankfully, Gov. McCrory seems to be moving to the right (or should I say correct) side of this issue. Now that the federal government is allowing governors and legislators the flexibility to design state-specific expansions Wyoming, Indiana, Utah, and Tennessee — hardly redoubts of liberalism — are starting to embrace expansion. We should follow suit.

This is a rich report that deserves a close reading. You can find some reporting on it here, here, here, and here.

 

 

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healthcare.govIf you don’t have affordable health insurance through an employer then now is your chance to shop for a plan on the individual market. New options are now available and many people can get help paying premiums. In fact, in 2014 more than 90 percent of people who enrolled in an insurance plan through healthcare.gov in North Carolina received financial assistance, and of this group the average premium was $80 per month. This is for a comprehensive policy.

The current open enrollment period  stretches until February 15, 2015, but if you want your benefits to start on January 1 then today is the day to purchase a plan. This is true no matter when you bought insurance in 2014.

The website is working smoothly these days but you don’t have to navigate the process by yourself. Plenty of health insurance agents are ready to assist you. Also, application counselors and navigators based at nonprofits around the state can help. They are all volunteers or grant funded and have no financial incentives to steer you toward any particular company or plan. You can check out this website to find help in your area. You can also call 1-855-733-3711.

It is especially important to shop around even if you bought a policy. If you don’t actively switch plans then you will be automatically reenrolled. But with new options and more companies competing in the state reenrollment is unlikely to get you the best deal. As with most products, you need to shop around.

Another reason to buy a policy today is that you aren’t stuck with the plan you choose. To prevent a gap in coverage you can purchase a policy now and continue investigating your options during open enrollment. As long as you act before February 15 then you can opt for a different plan. Last year once you chose a policy you were stuck. This year you can change plans during the entire open enrollment period.

Unfortunately, many people trying to obtain coverage will discover that they fall into the Medicaid gap in North Carolina. Because the state legislature has refused to expand Medicaid working families earning less than 100 percent of federal poverty level may still find coverage unaffordable, and they won’t get help paying premiums. If our lawmakers choose to act in the next legislative session then most struggling citizens will be able to obtain comprehensive insurance.