Governor Roy Cooper and Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy K. Cohen met with eastern North Carolina leaders today to discuss the need for Medicaid expansion to improve health outcomes and bolster economies in the region. Hosted by Vidant Health CEO Mike Waldrum, attendees included Representative Chris Humphrey, and leaders from East Carolina University, the Greenville-Pitt Chamber of Commerce, and the County Commissioners.
With Kansas just announcing a bipartisan plan to expand Medicaid, North Carolina is one of a small number of states that has refused to access the available funding to help its residents get affordable health coverage. Thirty-seven states, soon to be 38, have expanded Medicaid and are experiencing better health outcomes, fewer opioid overdoses, lower health insurance premiums, and increased financial stability for rural hospitals.
“Closing the health care coverage gap and providing health insurance for working people who can’t afford it would strengthen our rural communities and hospitals by improving access to care and boosting local economies,” said Governor Cooper. “Saying yes to expansion should be one of the easiest decisions a policymaker can make, and it’s time to stand up for our rural communities.”
Twenty-nine percent of rural low-income North Carolinians are uninsured. At the same time rural communities have higher rates on average of preventable disease, alcohol and drug use, injury, teen births, and overall mortality than urban areas. In addition to providing access to affordable health care, it is estimated that expanding Medicaid would be an engine for economic growth creating over 37,000 more jobs and increasing state and county tax revenues by over $600 million by 2022.
“Medicaid expansion would provide people with healthcare and allow people to be healthy enough to work,” said Ahoskie Mayor Weyling White.
“It shouldn’t be that your zip code matters more than your genetic code. It’s important that we close this health care coverage gap. All of our people in eastern North Carolina should have coverage. Our communities need help,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO, Vidant Health.
In 2019, the Pitt County Commissioners passed a resolution urging the General Assembly to expand Medicaid. Across the state, hospitals, chambers of commerce and county commissioners have passed similar resolutions.
Gov. Cooper has been traveling the state hearing from North Carolinians about the urgency to expand Medicaid. In addition, he and Secretary Cohen have hosted numerous roundtables on the health coverage gap. Rural hospital CEOs, childcare directors and teachers, mental health providers, obstetricians and pediatricians, and families impacted by the opioid epidemic have all traveled to Raleigh from across North Carolina to urge lawmakers to close the health coverage gap.
Closing the health insurance coverage gap for families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid remains a top priority for Gov. Cooper. Currently, a family of four with working parents must earn less than $9,000 to qualify for Medicaid. The same family’s income would have to exceed $25,000 to qualify for a federal subsidy to purchase health insurance. That leaves many families who earn too much for Medicaid and too little for a subsidy without health insurance.
The group also discussed the future of Brody School of Medicine. Close to 90 percent of the funding needed to build a new school is not in the conference budget that the Governor vetoed and would have to be voted on by future legislators over the next several years.
“Brody School of Medicine is not only the backbone of health care in Eastern North Carolina, it’s an economic driver and job creator,” Gov. Cooper said. “I support full funding for the new Brody school, so let’s talk about a path forward for a new Brody School instead of trying to pull a fast one on Eastern North Carolina.”
Participants in today’s discussion included Michelle B. Brooks, Chief of Staff, Health Sciences Division, East Carolina University; Shirley Carraway, Ed.D, Retired educator and Pitt Community College Board of Trustees; Representative Chris Humphrey; Bryant Kittrell, Board Chair, Vidant Health; Melvin McLawhorn, Pitt County Commissioner; Vann Rogerson, Interim President/CEO, NC East Alliance; Scott Shook, Greenville-Pitt Chamber; Dr. Mark Stacy, Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences, East Carolina University; Kate Teel, President, Greenville-Pitt Chamber; Daniel Van Liere, Government Relations, Vidant Health; Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO, Vidant Health; and Mayor Weyling White (Ahoskie).