PEG O’CONNELL: NC Needs good insurance news. Update now ::

EDITOR’S NOTE: Peg O’Connell is the chair of Care4Carolinaa coalition of 155 members nationwide committed to closing the health insurance gap.

North Carolina is missing out on one of America’s best. Across the country, the number of uninsured people is falling, even hitting all-time highs — but not in the Tar Heel State.

The profit having health insurance is great. Healthy employees are more productive employees. And early diagnosis and treatment means saving lives.

But while most Americans celebrate, North Carolina is letting it go.

According to a new federal report, the national uninsured rate was a record 8 percent in the first quarter of the year, with 5.2 million Americans receiving coverage as of 2020. This is good news for people across the country and in all income groups.

Sadly, however, North Carolina is headed to Wrong Way. As a result of our failure to implement a solution to North Carolina’s problem of foreclosure, we have seen an increase in the number of uninsured among our low-income neighborhoods.

For adults 19 to 64 with incomes slightly above the federal poverty line, North Carolina jumped nearly one full percentage point from 2018 to 2020. Not closing the health insurance gap.

So in the best of circumstances, how did this thing go wrong? Although medical treatment can be difficult, the answer here is straightforward. According to report provided by the Office of Health Policy “says expanding Medicaid starting in 2019 will lower uninsured rates among low-income adults.”

North Carolina still hasn’t closed the health care gap in Medicaid expansion, and, with the lights of a new study, it’s paying the price.

The special disparity refers to people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for coverage in the health insurance market. For example, many North Carolinians work a day job, but do not receive health insurance from their employer.

Before the plague, about 400,000 North Carolinians did not getting cheap insurance. Now, The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the number of North Carolinians who would benefit from closing the gap widened by 200,000.

So far, 38 states have moved to close their gaps by expanding Medicaid, with the state paying 90 percent of the cost. Federal law states that this amount cannot be reduced.

The American Rescue Plan provides states with a new incentive: a two-year, 5 percent increase in the federal match rate for Medicaid. In North Carolina, that would mean an increase of $1.7 billion over the next two years. Government estimates put the cost of closing the gap through Medicaid at $700 million during this period, which would leave $1 billion for the government to spend on other worthy projects.

Medicaid is an important tool for screening for common diseases like cancer and fighting for recovery once the disease is diagnosed. A recent study showed that cancer patients in ‘holdout’ states like ours survived – including a 31% mortality rate among breast cancer patients.

Expanding Medicaid would also benefit North Carolinians who are already insured. Former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC, Brad Wilson, wrote, “Closing the health insurance gap in North Carolina is an exciting goal…premiums are increasing.”

He went on to explain, “Expanding Medicaid means more people have coverage, thus reducing the losses that providers incur due to uncompensated care and ultimately reimbursing private insurance.”

North Carolina is too smart and too conservative a place to miss out on a good thing. And expanding Medicaid is, as many studies have shown, a very good thing. The NC Senate agrees, after overwhelmingly approving a plan to expand Medicaid. The NC House presented its plan to expand Medicaid, but the chambers have yet to agree on a solution that works for both.

Members of the global nonprofit Care4Carolina are standing with businesses, veterans, faith groups and families across North Carolina to lobby our legislature to close the ongoing disparity.

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