Governor Roy Cooper and Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen met with North Carolinians from across the political spectrum today. More than a dozen people from counties across the state, including New Hanover, Alamance and Harnett, recounted the choices that they are forced to make because they cannot access affordable, quality health insurance.
When people fall into the “coverage gap,” that means they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but earn too little to qualify for subsidies to afford coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
“The stories shared today are not unique. It’s why I so strongly believe that the health and wellbeing of our residents must be on the table for discussion as part of the budget process,” Governor Cooper said. “I believe straight up Medicaid expansion is the best option, but I’m willing to discuss concerns of leaders in both chambers to ensure that more North Carolinians can get access to affordable health care.”
Lynne Price-Pierce runs a food pantry in Saxapahaw, a former mill town. She too earns too much to be eligible for Medicaid but not enough to afford health insurance. She has high blood pressure and diabetes that requires insulin.
“I go to work every day. I don’t think people understand that I just can’t make ends meet,” said Price-Pierce. “I can’t go to the doctor without asking is this going to make me late on my mortgage or am I going to be able to buy food for my child? It has cost a lot of people their lives and I don’t want it to cost mine. I don’t like putting my personal stuff out there, but I think it’s so important to talk about expanding Medicaid because of the stigma around people who don’t have insurance. I am a college graduate with a master’s degree. I am the director of this food bank. And I am in the Medicaid gap.”
Francina Booker, a licensed nurse practitioner for 44 years who lives in Durham, shared how she had to stop working when she began chemotherapy for breast cancer. She depleted her savings to cover her expenses.
“I’ve had to ask do you pay for medication? Do you pay for food? Do you pay for your mortgage?” said Booker.
“I’m at the age where I need more preventative care to be successful for my kids,” said Sheila Arias of Durham. “As a single mother, when you have two kids, you want to be healthy to provide for them. That’s my biggest fear – that I’ll get sick and won’t be able to care for my family.”
Only eight states are ranked worse than North Carolina for the percent of population that is uninsured. Those without insurance often receive health care in the most expensive way possible – in the costly aftermath of a health crisis in our hospital emergency rooms rather than through regular preventative care. On average, those in Medicaid expansion states see health insurance premiums that are 7-11% lower than in non-expansion states
Gov. Cooper has been traveling the state hearing from North Carolinians about the urgency to expand Medicaid. In addition, he and Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen have hosted numerous roundtables on the health coverage gap. Rural hospital CEOs, childcare directors and teachers, mental health providers, obstetricians and pediatricians, and families impacted by the opioid epidemic have all traveled to Raleigh from across North Carolina to urge lawmakers to close the health coverage gap.
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 40,000 jobs.
Closing the health insurance coverage gap for families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid remains a top priority for Gov. 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 Sheila Arias (Durham), Francina Booker (Durham), Ken Branson (Durham), Ricky Clay (Wilmington), Adrienne Hayes Singleton (New Hanover County), Robin Jordan and her daughters Kaitlin Jordan Mitchell and Hannah Jordan (Alamance County), Tara Marchuck (Harnett County), Lynne Price Pierce (Saxapahaw), Rachel Radford (Goldsboro), and John Ramontin (Cary).