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First Responders Share Firsthand Accounts of Opioid Epidemic with Governor Roy Cooper and Secretary Mandy Cohen; Urge Policymakers to Expand Medicaid “Without Medicaid expansion it makes our job so much harder”- emergency responder in Stanly County

Raleigh

EMS professionals told Governor Roy Cooper and Secretary Mandy Cohen that the state needs to use every resource at its disposal to fight the opioid epidemic and urged policymakers to save lives by expanding Medicaid. First responders from Cabarrus, Halifax, Onslow and Stanly counties were among the participants.

“Our EMS professionals are on the frontline of the opioid epidemic and see the devastating impact it is having on our families and communities. Let’s stop fighting this epidemic with one arm tied behind our back and expand Medicaid so we can use that proven strategy to save lives,” Governor Cooper said.

“Without Medicaid expansion it makes our job so much harder. Treatment reduces fatalities. With expansion of Medicaid we can decrease deaths,” said Chris Howard with Stanly County EMS. Stanly County has had the highest rate of opioid overdoses in the state for several months in 2019, including in the most recent report for July.

Many people who struggle with addiction cannot pay for treatment because they lack access to health insurance. Half of all people who are hospitalized with an opioid overdose in North Carolina are uninsured. North Carolina has one of the highest rates of uninsurance in the nation. Only eight states are ranked worse.

For individuals with opioid use disorder, those with access to affordable health care through Medicaid are twice as likely as those without insurance to receive treatment. Ohio’s experience illustrates the urgency of expanding Medicaid. In Dayton, which had one of the highest opioid death rates in the nation, opioid deaths declined by more than 50 percent. In addition, in states that expanded Medicaid, the uninsured rate for opioid-related hospitalizations plummeted by 79 percent, from 13.4 percent in 2013 (the year before expansion implementation) to 2.9 percent in 2015.

“A lot of our patients are uninsured so after an event it is hard trying to connect to a provider. They don’t have out-of-pocket money to pay for services. Transportation is another barrier that Medicaid expansion would address,” said Christopher Dudley of Onslow County EMS. In 2016, Jacksonville ranked 12th in the nation on a list of cities experiencing the opioid crisis.

Expanding Medicaid in North Carolina would provide an estimated 500,000 North Carolinians with access to affordable health care. It would boost North Carolina’s economy by $4 billion and create an estimated 37,000 jobs.

Closing the health insurance coverage gap for families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid remains a top priority for Governor Cooper. Currently, a family of four with working parents must earn less than $9,000 to qualify for Medicaid. The same family’s income would have to exceed $25,000 to qualify for a federal subsidy to purchase health insurance. That leaves many families who earn too much for Medicaid and too little for a subsidy without health insurance. Since 2014, 37 states under bipartisan leadership, including the District of Columbia, have helped close the gap by expanding Medicaid so more people can get coverage.

Roundtable participants included Christopher Dudley (Onslow County EMS), Regina Goodette-Crawford (EMS Professional Association), Cheryl Grant (Onslow County EMS), David Grovdahl (Onslow County EMS), Chris Howard (Stanly County EMS), Phil Ricks (Halifax County EMS), Michael Smith (Stanly County EMS), and Alan Thomson (Retired, Cabarrus County EMS).

 

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