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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.

 

 

Commentary

As we report below the US Supreme Court has decided to hear another legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

You can read the details of the lawsuit in our earlier post, but some context is important. This new fight focuses on subsidies extended to individuals and families earning less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level who purchase private insurance. For these families subsidies are available to make insurance plans more affordable. In North Carolina about 91 percent of people purchasing Affordable Care Act plans received subsidies. Of those, the average cost of insurance is $81 per month.

News coverage of the Supreme Court’s move, coming just before open enrollment is set to start, is sure to cause confusion. In the short term it is critical to remember that the subsidies are still in place and everyone should proceed to shop for insurance without worrying about the political winds.

In the long term it is difficult to know what this case will mean for the law. The challenge is absurd, but that doesn’t give us any hint at how the Supreme Court Justices will vote. Read More

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Funeral

Photo: NC NAACP

As the North Carolina NAACP holds a “Denial of Medicaid Funeral Procession” today, it’s worth considering some of the facts and data surrounding the impact of North Carolina’s ongoing refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act:

The North Carolina Institute of Medicine’s 2009 Access to Care study begins with this statement: “The lack of health insurance coverage is the foremost barrier to accessing health care services.”

In the report’s introduction it continues:

In a statewide survey of adults, nearly half of the uninsured in North Carolina reported forgoing necessary care due to cost, compared to 10% of individuals with insurance coverage. Lack of coverage also adversely affects health as the uninsured are less likely to get preventive screenings or ongoing care for chronic conditions. Consequently, the uninsured have a greater likelihood than people with coverage of being diagnosed with severe health conditions (such as late stage cancer), being hospitalized for preventable health problems, or dying prematurely. In fact, adults who lack insurance coverage are 25% more likely to die prematurely than adults with insurance coverage.

A Families USA report in 2010 estimated that before the Affordable Care Act passed nearly 1,000 North Carolinians died each year between 2005 and 2010 due to lack of health insurance.

What has changed is that the states now have an unprecedented tool for saving lives. North Carolina now has the opportunity to extend health insurance coverage to nearly all low-income adults, the majority of whom are working. The federal government will finance nearly the entire cost of this coverage expansion. Not expanding coverage is not only morally misguided but it is also fiscally irresponsible. Read More