Poll: GOP voters back Medicaid expansion in NC, especially when they learn more about who benefits, who doesn't

Posted November 2, 2021 5:56 p.m. EDT
Updated November 3, 2021 8:49 a.m. EDT

N.C. health, mental health, Medicaid generic

— A slim majority of Republican voters in North Carolina favor expanding Medicaid in the state, but the support grows to about three of every four when they learn more about who benefits from the taxpayer-funded health insurance program, according to a new poll.

Advocacy group NC Child commissioned the poll, which will be released Wednesday, to demonstrate widespread support for expanding health coverage to tens of thousands of low-income working adults in North Carolina.

“We have upwards of 100,000 parents with children at home who are in the coverage gap with no way to get health insurance," Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child, said in a statement. "They come from every background and political stripe. Every parent, regardless of their political affiliation, needs to be able to take care of their health, so they can take care of their kids."

Six hundred registered Republican voters were surveyed between Oct. 26 and Oct. 28. When asked whether they back Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, 52 percent said yes, and 39 percent said no.

But when specific points about Medicaid expansion were highlighted, support among GOP voters soared:

  • Providing coverage to more than 30,000 uninsured veterans, including a quarter of those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq – 75 percent support, 13 percent oppose.
  • Helping people get medication and treatment for chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer and other life-threatening diseases – 72 percent support, 15 percent oppose.
  • Increasing early detection of cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses – 72 percent support, 12 percent oppose.
  • Limited to legal U.S. residents (undocumented immigrants would receive no benefits) – 75 percent support, 13 percent oppose.
  • Thirty-nine states have already expanded Medicaid, including several controlled by Republican officials – 62 percent support, 24 percent oppose.
  • Applicants who aren't working would have to enroll in a job-training program – 76 percent support, 14 percent oppose.

Despite apparent widespread support among Republican voters, Medicaid expansion is "still a hard sell for many" GOP lawmakers, said Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth.

A former hospital executive, Lambeth has long backed Medicaid expansion and even filed a bill to do so two years ago.

"We haven’t talked about Medicaid expansion in the House caucus at all [this year]," he said. "Our freshmen don’t have the background and the knowledge, and that’s been part of our challenge is getting it in front of our members now."

Medicaid has been part of the ongoing negotiations over the state budget. Expansion has long been a priority for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, but House Speaker Tim Moore said last month that it wouldn't be part of any final spending plan.

“I’m still not giving up hope … but I keep hearing quietly that [opposition is] much more driven by primary opposition than fundamental opposition to the concept," a health care lobbyist told WRAL News.

The lobbyist, who asked not to be identified, said a number of GOP lawmakers who quietly support Medicaid expansion fear having someone run against them on the issue in next year's Republican primary.

"They’re all being told it’s political suicide, which I actually don’t think is accurate," he said, noting that none of the Republican lawmakers in Virginia who backed expansion in that state lost to a primary opponent.

"I think their fears are overblown," he said.

Several deep red counties in western North Carolina also have backed Medicaid expansion to help their local residents, both Lambeth and the lobbyist said.

Lambeth called Medicaid expansion "an economic stimulus bill," noting North Carolina would receive billions of dollars in federal funding that would help both low-income families and hospitals.

The NC Child poll has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points. The polling memo, with links to the full survey and crosstabs, is online here.

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