PEG O'CONNELL: N.C. Missing out on good insurance news. Change it now
Monday, Aug. 29, 2022 -- North Carolina is missing out on one of America's most exciting doses of good news. Around much of the country the number of uninsured people is dropping but not in the Tar Heel state. North Carolina is too smart and too caring a place to miss out on a good thing. Expanding Medicaid is, as so many studies have indicated, a very good thing.Posted — Updated
North Carolina is missing out on one of America’s most exciting doses of good news. Around much of the country, the number of uninsured people is dropping, even hitting all-time lows – but not in the Tar Heel state.
But while much of America celebrates, North Carolina is allowing itself to be left behind.
For adults 19 to 64 with an income slightly above the federal poverty line, North Carolina saw a jump of almost one full percentage point from 2018 to 2020. If the past is prologue, then we are likely to see this number increase again if we don’t close the health insurance coverage gap.
North Carolina has not yet closed its health care coverage gap by expanding Medicaid, and, by the lights of the new research, is paying a price.
The coverage gap refers to people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for a subsidy on the health insurance marketplace. For example, many North Carolinians clock in to jobs day after day, but they don’t receive health insurance from their employers.
So far, 38 states have moved to close their gaps by expanding Medicaid, with the federal government paying 90 percent of the cost. Federal law dictates that this funding level will not decrease.
The American Rescue Plan provides states with a new incentive: a two-year, five percent increase in the federal match rate for Medicaid. For North Carolina, that would mean an influx of around $1.7 billion over the next two years. Official estimates put the cost of closing the coverage gap through Medicaid at $700 million over that span, which would leave $1 billion for the state to invest in other worthy endeavors.
Medicaid is a key tool in screening for common diseases like cancer and fighting for recovery once a disease is detected. A recent study showed that cancer patients in ‘holdout’ states like ours experienced lower survival rates -- including a 31% increase in mortality risk among breast cancer patients.
Expanding Medicaid would also likely benefit North Carolinians who already have insurance. The former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC, Brad Wilson, has written, “Closing the health insurance gap in North Carolina is an admirable goal … Studies suggest that one potential benefit would be lowering health insurance premiums, or materially mitigating the pace of premium increases.”
He went on to explain, “Expanding Medicaid means that more people have coverage, thereby reducing the losses medical providers incur for uncompensated care and ultimately recoup from private insurance premiums.”
North Carolina is too smart and too caring a place to miss out on a good thing. And expanding Medicaid is, as so many studies have indicated, a very good thing. The NC Senate agrees, having overwhelmingly approved a plan to expand Medicaid. The NC House passed its Medicaid expansion plan, but the chambers have yet to reach an agreement on a solution that works for both of them.
The members of the statewide nonpartisan Care4Carolina coalition stand with businesses, veterans, faith groups and families around North Carolina urging our legislature to close the coverage gap.