Editorial: State should make sure ALL in need are tested for coronavirus

Posted March 10, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

CBC Editorial: Tuesday, March 10, 2020; Editorial #8518
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

In the emergency $8.3 billion spending package approved in Congress last week to address the coronavirus outbreak, there’s at least $13 million in emergency funding set aside for North Carolina to address local public health needs associated with the outbreak.

Several states have already announced that some of those funds will be used to pay for – or substantially subsidize – the cost of coronavirus testing for patients who lack health coverage. In most states, particularly the 38 that have expanded Medicaid, it is a relatively small number.

But that is not the case in North Carolina because it hasn’t expanded Medicaid. Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration is giving serious consideration to using some of those emergency federal dollars to pay for those who do need to be tested but cannot afford it. Such a move would be the right thing, not just helping those with financial challenges, but also because it is the right thing to protect the public health.

But this is a state where the General Assembly’s leadership has steadfastly refused to extend health coverage to those who need it but cannot afford it. Should Cooper decide to use the emergency federal funds for the coronavirus testing, no one should ignore the very real possibility legislative leaders might try to block it.

Preposterous, you say. Not so fast.

These are the same folks who have boasted about their refusal to expand Medicaid while $13.4 billion in federal funds the state would have received have been lost. Still, North Carolina taxpayers support Medicaid expansion in other states – like Indiana where coverage was extended under then governor and now Vice President Mike Pence. This is the same fellow who now is leading President Trump’s taskforce addressing the coronavirus outbreak.

In opinion poll after opinion poll, North Carolina citizens are overwhelming in their support of expanding Medicaid.

But North Carolina elected leaders turn a cold shoulder. They say if anyone wants health coverage “the best thing that folks can do is get a job.” The reality is that most of the more than half-million North Carolinians who would qualify for assistance under Medicaid Expansion are working or are the children of parents who are working. They just don’t make enough money and don’t work for firms that provide health coverage.

Concerns over costs – and risks to the public if people who need testing don’t get it -- are not hypothetical.

“If people with COVID-19 symptoms don’t get properly tested, we could have a catastrophe on our hands,” Duke University professor and physician Gavin Yamey, who directs the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health, wrote recently. “Infected people could get sick and die. They could infect others.” In his Time Magazine column last week, he added: “If any of the 28 million people (nationally) without insurance develop symptoms and get coronavirus tests, they could face medical bills that could push them further into poverty.”

Isn’t it remarkable that there could even be a thought that the legislature might stop the state from paying for coronavirus testing? Yet, this legislature’s record makes it a legitimate worry.

These federal funds SHOULD be used to be sure EVERYONE who needs to be tested, regardless of financial status, has it done. The legislature needs to stay out of the way.

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