Opinion

Let’s put politics aside and expand Medicaid now – MaryAnn Black

MaryAnn Black
MaryAnn Black

North Carolina should expand Medicaid. Access to quality and affordable health care should be a right for all people.

As someone who works every day to connect our communities to health-care access, a lack of health insurance and its rising costs are primary issues of concern. I hear from many people in the Durham community that they cannot afford health insurance or can barely afford to keep what they have.

In my role as a social worker and as a state representative, I see the consequences of unaffordable health insurance. For many working families, the next major illness or hospitalization could mean bankruptcy.

The people I serve in Durham want what most Americans want for themselves and their families. They want brighter futures for their children through a quality education, to adequately support their families and to save for a secure retirement. Health care, housing and basic living expenses are becoming more and more costly, and too many families are struggling to survive.

These struggling families deserve health care, and there is one clear thing that we could do to help. North Carolina could provide health-care coverage for an estimated 390,000 additional people by expanding Medicaid coverage now!

Thanks to Medicaid, millions of Americans have health insurance coverage, particularly our children, people with disabilities and low-income adults. The states that expanded Medicaid coverage covered 16 million people, helping drive the nation’s uninsured rate to the lowest level in history.

Our state chose to put politics ahead of good policy by not expanding Medicaid. According to data from a N.C. Institute of Medicine article from 2014, every day that goes by without Medicaid expansion our state is losing nearly $5 million a day in federal funding. This would provide health-care coverage to countless uninsured North Carolinians. This funding could be used to make families healthier, bring jobs to our state and grow our economy.

In addition, expanding Medicaid would almost be completely funded by the federal government. The money for Medicaid expansion that we do not take will go to other states to increase their health-care access, insure their uninsured and help their residents become healthier people. This federally funded expansion would protect some of our rural counties by keeping medical care in those communities. Medicaid expansion would also safeguard counties like Durham from having individuals who cannot afford health care.

By not supporting Medicaid expansion, we are basically leaving money on the table that could benefit many North Carolinians from our coasts to our mountains. Medicaid is the most efficient health insurance program we have as it covers people at a lower cost than private insurance or even Medicare. At the same time, Medicaid has a proven track record of getting people access to health care and improving the health of many people.

All health programs like Medicaid can be improved. States across the country are innovating to advance care coordination, tackle challenges like the opioid epidemic, promote healthy pregnancies and newborns, and decrease health-care costs. North Carolina has such a rich legacy of providing health care, and it should continue to be a part of these innovative ways to improve health.

Our health-care systems are also suffering from the lack of Medicaid expansion. In rural areas, hospitals are closing because they can no longer afford to provide care to patients who simply cannot pay for it. Medicaid expansion would help to ensure that every person who needs to see a doctor could afford to and hospitals would not have to close their doors.

Rejecting Medicaid expansion is not working for North Carolina families, which is why I am joining state legislators and advocates across the country this week as we fight for families. We are championing legislation that creates economic security for families by investing in their health, raising their incomes, creating good jobs and leveling the playing field. Our communities can only thrive when families are supported and given opportunities to move ahead. Expanding Medicaid coverage to more families in our state is a commonsense solution that we can no longer ignore.

I hope that you will join me in calling on my colleagues in the legislature to support expanding health-care coverage for North Carolinians. It is time to put ideology aside and do what is right for the people of our state.

MaryAnn Black represents Durham in N.C. House District 29 in the N.C. General Assembly.

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