Our faiths call us to work for justice and show compassion for the “least of these.” Justice issues can also make such good economic sense that we cannot afford not to be compassionate. Such is the case with extending Medicaid to close the coverage gap and provide health insurance for all citizens in North Carolina.
Dr. Margaret E Sowerwine, a Rocky Mount physician, shares information she prepared for business leaders on the economic argument for closing the health care gap in NC. As Christians, the economic advantage is a bonus. However, our faith and the Great Physician call us to provide health care for everyone even if there is an economic cost.
At the end of the first year of the Affordable Care Act there were 357,000 NC folks enrolled in the health insurance marketplace with more than 90% receiving federal subsidies. But Dr. Sowerwine shares that “500,000 North Carolinians are in the health care gap” — they do not qualify for Medicaid or subsidies, but they cannot afford health insurance, even though 60% have jobs. While this is a tragedy for those who need health care, Dr. Sowerwine points out that this “is an economic burden for the rest of us.” She explains the costs as follows:
Uninsured people forgo preventive care and do without medications needed to manage chronic conditions. When they absolutely must seek treatment, they go to an Emergency Room and may be admitted as inpatients. They can’t pay the bills, so hospitals recoup their losses by raising rates on the insured.
In addition, many government programs to provide health care to the poor have been discontinued, with the anticipation that these people would be covered under expanded Medicaid. So small medical facilities, especially in rural areas, are losing income and closing.
Even our state’s largest hospital systems are eliminating jobs to compensate for decreased income. Last spring NC Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem laid off 350 employees. Cone Health in Greensboro cut 300 from its workforce. At the same time, the number of patients who can’t pay their medical bills is increasing. Charlotte area hospitals had 26% more “uncollectibles” last year over the previous year.
On top of that, we are turning down $4.9 million each day from the federal government. North Carolina lost $2.7 billion in 2014, and is projected to lose $3.3 billion in 2015. If we fail to come up with a program this year that the federal government can accept, we will lose $21 billion in the next five years. These are federal tax dollars that you and I have paid in, that are now going to the 30 states that have accepted Medicaid expansion or come up with their own alternative program
And what would that federal money do? It is estimated that if we can come up with our own alternate program this year, that $21 billion would create 43,000 jobs in the next five years. Half of those jobs would be in health care, and half in construction, sales, and service. You can go to NC Medicaid Expansion to see a breakdown county-by-county of the economic effects projected….
Doing nothing just is not a viable alternative. Over one thousand North Carolinians are projected to die each year due to lack of access to health care. These are people who, with preventive care and medications to manage chronic conditions, could be active and productive citizens.
Three actions Dr. Sowerwine suggests are:
- Call 919-814-2000 and ask for the Opinion Line. Tell the Governor you support a program to expand health care in North Carolina and want the state to benefit from the federal money available and you want all our brothers and sisters to have health care.
- Call your state legislators and tell them you want to close the health care gap in North Carolina, and bring those federal dollars into our state and you want everyone to have health care. If you aren’t sure who your legislators are or don’t know how to contact them, go the NC General Assembly website and click on “Who Represents Me?”
- Talk to your County Commissioner and your City Council member, and anyone that you know, and ask them to put pressure on the Governor and the Legislature to close the healthcare gap in North Carolina.