One of the biggest ongoing scandals in North Carolina is that several hundred thousand people live every day without health insurance because Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders have refused to follow the lead of 31 other states and expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a prominent Republican, recently touted the success of Medicaid expansion in his state, saying the naysayers there had been proven wrong and that 566,000 people he represents now have insurance coverage thanks to his decision to work with the federal government and develop a plan for expansion.
Several other Republican governors have expanded Medicaid too, but in North Carolina the naysayers are in charge, leaving more than 400,000 low-income adults without health care coverage.
Studies from the N.C. Institute of Medicine and other foundations and think tanks have found that expanding Medicaid would not just provide health care to people who need it, but create jobs too, 25,000 of them in the first few years of expansion and 18,000 sustained jobs after that.
North Carolina hospitals would receive $11 billion in funding over the next 10 years if Medicaid was expanded. That’s money that could literally help many rural hospitals stay open and operating.
Those are the numbers that make a clear case for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina and they are convincing,
But a new study released this week by the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund in Chapel Hill provides the most compelling case yet for North Carolina leaders to finally overcome their rigid ideology and take another look at expansion.
The report, “Putting a Face on Medicaid Expansion in North Carolina,” includes the numbers about the lost federal funding and the hundreds of thousands of people who are being denied care by the decision to forego expansion.
And it includes the figures from a Harvard study that found that as many as 1,145 people in North Carolina may die every year because Medicaid has not been expanded and they have no access to screenings and preventive care.
But this study is about more than the numbers, as startling as they are. It is about the people who are affected by Gov. McCrory’s decision not to expand Medicaid, real people worrying and struggling and suffering.
There are devastating stories from doctors who describe the agony of their patients who pay a terrible price for not having health coverage, the missed screenings and diagnoses and early treatment that lead to almost indescribable pain.
And even more compelling are the stories in this new report from the people themselves, first person accounts of people denied access to basic health care because of the decision by the politicians in Raleigh.
The report starts with one, the words of Sonya Taylor, a 55-year-old mother and grandmother from Hertford County who comes from a family of sharecroppers. She worked full time until five years ago when she underwent a six-hour fusion operation for scoliosis in which rods and plates were inserted in her back.
Then she lost her insurance coverage, which means she couldn’t afford physical therapy. Her family has a history of cancer and she now suffers with problems in her gastrointestinal tract but she can’t afford to have them checked out. Here are her words from the report.
“I live in fear. My kids deal with the constant worry that they’re going to lose their mother. I feel like I’m fighting for my life and the state of North Carolina could care less.
“If I woke up tomorrow and got an email telling me I qualified for some type of insurance, it would change my life. It would be such a godsend to me and my family. It’s disheartening now, because my kids see I have to fight for every bit of medical care I get. I’ve got grandkids. I want to see them grow up.”
That is what Medicaid expansion is about and who it is about, not numbers and jobs and hospitals, though those are all important. It’s about people in our neighborhoods and communities.
Read this report and these words from people in our state. And more importantly ask your legislator to read them too. North Carolina surely must be better than this.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive direcot of N.C. Policy Watch.