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Medicaid expansion will be on the front burner at Women’s Advocacy Day tomorrow

Nicole and Linda [1]Tomorrow is Women’s Advocacy Day at the North Carolina General Assembly [2] and there are a lot of good reasons for caring women (and men) to attend. The one at the top of my list will be Medicaid expansion – the long-neglected plan to extend decent, affordable health coverage to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians.

As has been explained repeatedly in countless places in recent months, North Carolina would benefit greatly from Medicaid expansion. The numbers of lives that would be saved and the amount of money that would flow to the state are both huge and more than reason enough for state leaders to act. As a group that has long endured lower pay and benefits, women would also benefit disproportionately from expansion.

For me, however, the motivation for speaking out goes well beyond the numbers. It’s also about speaking out on behalf of people who I know and care about – people like my friend, Linda Dunn (that’s us on the left at the General Assembly last month).

I met Linda back in December at a community forum in Kinston at which Sen. Don Davis, Lenoir County Sheriff Ronnie Ingram and several other community leaders expressed concern about the failure to expand Medicaid and the fact that, in Lenoir County alone, expansion would cover 2,270 residents and create more than 350 desperately needed jobs.

Linda attended the forum along with her adult daughter. I met them just before the discussion was set to begin. She was terribly concerned about her daughter’s lack of access to insurance and medical care.

In fact, she was so concerned that she was later inspired to travel to Raleigh to share her family’s story during last month’s Medicaid Expansion Advocacy Day. Linda held onto the podium in the Legislative Building press room while some in the audience held back tears as she spoke like only a mother could about the devastating impacts of suffering from chronic health conditions without insurance.

During her speech and legislative visits, she shared that her daughter had been stripped of her career, her health, her home, and her dignity. Each day she and her husband live in fear that they will outlive their daughter. Linda and her husband have gone back to work, instead of enjoying retirement, to help fund their daughter’s medical care.

Most North Carolinians love our state and wouldn’t want to leave. But a national divide is growing between regions that invest in their health care infrastructure and those that do not. State leaders have a tremendous opportunity to do what other states have done and create a state-specific solution to extend insurance coverage to more than 500,000 hardworking people.

Thirty states have shown the leadership to close this coverage gap. One such leader is John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio who expanded Medicaid in his state. When reporters asked him why he supported this policy he said that as a person of faith he expected St. Peter to ask him at some point in the future what he did for the poor, not what he did to keep government small. When that question came, Gov. Kasich said, he felt he better have a good answer.

Hopefully NC elected officials will have good answers tomorrow for the hundreds of women who will be speaking for themselves and the Linda Dunns of our state.