It’s time for a plan to cover 500,000 North Carolinians

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled — again — that the structure of the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, it is time to move forward with making the law work better in our state.

The first, and most important, step is accepting federal funds to extend the benefits of affordable health insurance coverage to 500,000 more people in our state. Gov. McCrory said last year that his staff was assembling options to expand coverage and that he would make an announcement about his recommendation after the Supreme Court ruled in King v. Burwell. The ruling has arrived.

When asked about expansion today McCrory was sort of squishy and said he wants a North Carolina plan. We all do. But first we need the Governor to draft and release such a plan. Conservative Governors in Ohio, Indiana, Utah, Michigan, Tennessee and other states have either closed the coverage gap or assembled a strategy to accomplish a coverage expansion. There’s no reason our Governor can’t do the same.

Legislators are still critical of expansion. Sen. Ralph Hise says that he doesn’t think the federal government will be flexible enough to allow a state option. His wish list includes wanting to expand using private insurance and imposing co-pays on recipients above the federal poverty level.

Of course, the federal government has approved even more conservative measures than Hise mentions. Several states including Arkansas, Iowa, and Michigan do use private insurance to expand coverage. Some states are charging co-pays and premiums even on enrollees earning less than the federal poverty level. The federal government has shown a degree of flexibility that makes many advocates uncomfortable. The idea that our hands are tied is, to quote Justice Scalia, pure applesauce.

Recently released data from the National Health Interview Survey show the dramatic impact of expanding coverage. In Kentucky the adult uninsured rate dropped from 24.1 percent in 2013 to 15.6 percent in 2014. In Arkansas the rate went from 27.5 percent to 15.6 percent. And, most stunningly, in West Virginia the adult uninsured rate went from 28.8 percent in 2013 to 12.2 percent in 2014. These numbers reflect only the first year of expansion and states nearly cut their adult uninsured rates in half. In North Carolina the adult uninsured rate moved from 25.6 percent to 22.5 percent.

A majority of states are expanding coverage while reforming their Medicaid programs. More states will join their ranks now the Supreme Court has ruled that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. The Governor must show leadership on this issue and ensure that all of our citizens have access to comprehensive, affordable health insurance.


Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal and friends are walking to DC to save rural health care

IMG_0831Last year Mayor Adam O’Neal from the tiny, scenic town of Belhaven, NC, made national headlines as he walked nearly 300 miles from Beaufort County to Washington, DC, to protest the closing of his rural hospital and to urge states to accept Medicaid expansion.

On Monday, June 1, O’Neal left Belhaven to replicate last year’s feat. And this year he is taking along advocates from around the country. As marchers filed out of town yesterday to start the arduous journey they wore shirts advertising their home states. A team of advocates travelled from Texas, some came from West Virginia and Alabama, a rural hospital CEO from Kentucky joined the walk, as did a woman from Seattle, Washington.

The message of the marchers is clear: we must save rural health care.

A key part of that agenda includes expanding Medicaid, as an Episcopal priest from Belhaven reminded the audience during a prayer before the send off. Rev. William Barber from the NC NAACP noted that Jesus made health care a central part of his ministry.

You can follow the march at this website. You can also tweet with the hashtag #savethe283. That refers to a national estimate that 283 rural hospitals are at risk of closing this year.

You can also join the final rally as marchers reach Washington, DC, and gather at the Capitol on June 15 at 10am.

And, finally, you can ask legislators and the Governor in North Carolina to accept new federal Medicaid funds to expand insurance coverage to 500,000 more people in our state.


More local governments back Medicaid expansion

In 2013 the North Carolina General Assembly rejected new federal funds to expand health insurance coverage in the state, but that hasn’t stopped local governments from urging the Governor and legislators to change course.

Counties such as Mecklenburg and Durham have passed Medicaid expansion resolutions as have cities like Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Even Sen. Phil Berger’s hometown of Eden officially went on record endorsing expansion. The Rockingham County towns of Reidsville and Madison have since joined Eden.

This month three more counties — Nash, Edgecombe, and Chatham — joined the chorus.

As retired cardiologist Jim Foster pointed out to the Chatham Commissioners there are tremendous economic benefits to accepting more federal Medicaid dollars. From news coverage of the resolution:

“Anytime money flows into the economy, it ripples through and multiplies,” Foster said.

He pointed to a George Washington University study that broke down the costs and revenues from expanding Medicaid.

The study broke figures down for the state and for its 100 counties.

In Chatham, for example, the study stated that not expanding Medicaid cost 136 jobs and $6 million in gross product.e study Dr. Foster mentions can be found here.

Approval of the Nash County resolution was unanimous and Commissioners added a call for simultaneous reforms to Medicaid. This makes sense. In fact, nearly every expansion state is also reforming the program at the same time.

There is no reason North Carolina’s leaders can’t learn to walk and chew gum like most other states in the country.


States reap savings and increased revenues from Medicaid expansion

RWJA new report from Manatt Health Solutions on behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds that states that have tapped federal funds to expand Medicaid are seeing significant financial benefits. By the end of 2015 the savings and revenues across the eight states examined in the report are expected to exceed $1.8 billion.

This is consistent with the county level examination of expansion in North Carolina commissioned by the Cone Health Foundation and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. That study, using conservative estimates, found that the savings and revenues more than offset the costs of expansion through 2020.

The states featured in the report — Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and West Virginia — had direct budget savings from reduced spending on the uninsured, they experienced increased tax revenue from the new flow of federal funds into the state, and they realized additional savings from switching some existing Medicaid patients into the expansion program.

A source of significant savings, for example, comes from pregnant women. North Carolina has traditionally covered pregnant women in Medicaid up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level. This coverage, however, is only for pregnancy related services. Also, once a woman has the baby she oftentimes loses Medicaid because coverage for parents is quite stingy.

After expansion, pregnant women above 133 percent of federal poverty level would qualify for full Medicaid coverage. And, instead of the lower match rate, the federal government would pay 90 percent of the costs for these women. Once the baby is born many women would then be able to continue coverage through Medicaid. This would result in healthier babies, healthier parents, and major savings for the state.

The report notes that states will also garner savings in behavioral health and among the medically needy population.

States that opted to expand Medicaid early will have the largest benefits, but there are still plenty of positives for states like North Carolina that haven’t hit the leader board yet. The final year for the federal government to pay the full cost of expansion is 2016 so we need to act fast or our people, and our economy, will miss out on a much needed boost.


Anti-same sex marriage “economist” to bash Medicaid expansion in NC

Out-of-state activist J. Scott Moody will be making the rounds on Monday in North Carolina to say that expanding Medicaid will hurt our economy.

Moody is from a South Carolina outfit called State Budget Solutions and he travels the country speaking out against policies disfavored by conservatives. His schtick is releasing cut-and-paste reports showing the economic harm done by the programs he opposes.

For example, in 2012 he lit off to New Hampshire to warn that allowing same sex marriage in that state would result in economic devastation and a “demographic winter.” You have to read the entire news article of his visit to capture his arguments in all of their glory, but this is one of my favorite parts:

Also, according to Moody, when same-sex couples adopt, they place the child in a situation where one or both of their parents isn’t their biological parent. However, according to Moody, statistics have shown that a relationship with a stepparent is not the same as a relationship with a biological parent and stepparents tend to not have the same bond or pay the same attention as the biological parent. Moody did not provide charts or actual sources for this claim.

These days Moody is taking a break from attacking adoptive parents and is focusing on Medicaid expansion. Moody has made presentations in several states and published opinion pieces arguing that an expansion of the public sector will crowd out private sector spending. This analysis is about as sophisticated as his arguments that gay marriage will destroy the economy and that stepparents don’t pay attention to their children.

Actual economists have responded to Moody everywhere he has spoken to point out that he is wrong. A good example is from Dr. Sven Wilson at BYU when Moody visited Utah to warn them of the dangers of federal funds flowing to the state. Again, you should read the entire piece but here’s a taste of Wilson’s response:

Many economists argue that spending on Healthy Utah will further expand the economy by generating new jobs and new private spending as the money works its way through the economy. Economists call this effect a multiplier. As a conservative, free-market economist, I think multipliers are generally small. But no serious economist of any political stripe thinks the multiplier is negative, which is what Moody is suggesting.

Imagine someone saying that when tourists spend their money in our state, their purchases end up costing us jobs and hurting our economy. Who would believe that? But that is exactly the argument Moody is making about Healthy Utah.

Luckily, we already have a study on the economic impacts of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina using respected REMI models. That study concludes that expansion will grow our economy, create 43,000 jobs, and provide much needed revenue to county and state budgets. It will also provide affordable coverage to 500,000 North Carolinians and bolster rural health care in the state. States that have already expanded coverage, like Kentucky, are seeing these positive economic predictions realized.

We aren’t seeing the winter Moody predicted in 2012. Instead the economy keeps heating up despite gay marriage sweeping the nation. I suspect we will see similar results as more states expand insurance coverage.