As a neighbor, community volunteer, and nurse in the county health department, I have come to know the people of our county well. We’re built of solid western North Carolina stock—we work hard, don’t complain, and have a knack for making do in tough times.
But even tough people have high blood pressure, get hurt on the job, or get cancer. Right now, too many people in our county can’t get the care they need because they don’t have health insurance. Many of them are stuck in what’s known as the “health care coverage gap.” They work in industries like retail, construction, and food service where they don’t earn enough to qualify for subsidies through the Affordable Care Act, but they are ineligible for Medicaid.
The impact of the coverage gap is very real in Henderson County. In her recent article, Times-News Reporter Beth DeBona tells the story of a single, working mother whose income from a part-time, minimum wage job disqualified her for Medicaid. This story reminded me of a former patient who received care at the health department while she was pregnant. She was college educated and worked two jobs, but couldn’t afford health insurance and didn’t qualify for Medicaid. As happens with many young mothers, she was eligible and enrolled in Medicaid during the pregnancy but lost that eligibility 60 days after the delivery of her baby. She was stuck in the coverage gap.
I remember visiting her at her home where she told me that she worried about what might happen to her and her family without health insurance. She was right to be worried. Without insurance and the preventive care it provides, small health problems often turn into big problems, which can lead to pain, loss of employment, and even loss of life. A report from Harvard University’s School of Public Health estimates that closing the coverage gap in North Carolina will prevent 450-1145 unnecessary deaths each year.
Aside from the profound health implications, families without insurance are vulnerable to catastrophic medical debt, which is the leading cause of bankruptcy nationwide.
I had to tell this young woman with two children that there were no good options for her. As a nurse, my job is to take care of people and make sure that if they get sick, they also get better. It pained me that I couldn’t help this decent, hard-working woman get the care she needed.
Governor McCrory and state lawmakers, however, do have the power to solve this problem. The federal government has set aside tax dollars to pay for 100% of the cost of closing the coverage gap initially and never less than 90%. All North Carolina has to do is expand our current Medicaid Program or create a state-specific plan for closing the gap.
This is a decision that should come easily for state policymakers. Closing the coverage gap would provide half a million North Carolinians with health insurance, including over 3,000 people here in Henderson County. With insurance, entire families will be healthier and more financially secure.
Expanding health care options also has economy-wide benefits for our state and county. According to a study by Cone Health in 2015, making health care available for half a million adults in North Carolina will create approximately 43,000 new jobs statewide and more than 350 in Henderson County. Those new jobs will result in increased tax revenues to our local and state governments.
I urge all of you who have health insurance in Henderson County—policymakers, business owners, retirees—to think about the people you see every day in your favorite coffee shop or restaurant, or the handyman that fixes your roof when it leaks. There’s a good chance your favorite barista or your dependable carpenter doesn’t qualify for Medicaid and can’t afford health insurance.
I believe that the hard working people of Henderson County and North Carolina deserve to have their basic health care needs met. I hope Governor McCrory and our state lawmakers will agree and close the coverage gap without further delay.
Linda Weldon, RN